Nicaragua and Uruguay were first to ratify the Protocol to Eliminate the Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, which seeks to suppress illegal production and smuggling of tobacco.
Washington, D.C., 29 May 2015 (PAHO/WHO) — In the lead-up to World No Tobacco Day (May 31), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is calling on its member countries to ratify the Protocol to Eliminate the Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, an international agreement that sets out specific measures to fight illicit production and smuggling of tobacco products.
The protocol was negotiated by World Health Organization (WHO) member countries that are parties to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the world's first international public health treaty. The FCTC requires countries to apply a series of policies and measures aimed at reducing the impact of the global tobacco epidemic, while the new protocol requires specific action to reduce the impact of the illicit tobacco trade.
Worldwide, one in every 10 cigarettes consumed is illegal, along with similar proportions of many other tobacco products. The tobacco industry and criminal groups are among those who profit from this illegal trade. Eliminating the illicit tobacco trade would allow governments to gain US$31 billion, which could be used to improve public health and reduce crime.
"This protocol will be a key policy tool to reduce tobacco consumption by restricting the availability of cheap, unregulated alternatives and increasing prices on tobacco products overall. This will not only save lives but also increase tax revenues that can then be applied to health interventions," said PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne. "Two countries in our region—Nicaragua and Uruguay—were the first in the world to ratify the protocol, and now we're calling on others to follow their example."
The illicit tobacco trade offers products at lower prices, primarily by avoiding government taxes through smuggling, illegal manufacturing and counterfeiting. The ability to buy tobacco at cheaper prices encourages younger tobacco users (who generally have lower incomes). The loss of government revenues that results from illicit trade has the greatest impact on low-income countries that depend heavily on consumption taxes.
The Protocol to Eliminate the Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products would help to suppress this trade through a range of measures relating to the tobacco supply chain, including the licensing of imports, exports and manufacture of tobacco products; the establishment of tracking and tracing systems; and the imposition of penal sanctions on those responsible for illicit trade. The protocol would also criminalize illicit manufacturing and cross-border smuggling of tobacco products.
Although publicly, the tobacco industry casts itself as an ally in the fight against illicit tobacco, the industry's behind-the-scenes behavior has been very different. Internal documents released as a result of court cases demonstrate that the industry has actively fostered the illicit trade globally. It also works to block implementation of tobacco control measures such as tax increases and pictorial health warnings by arguing that these will fuel the illicit trade.
"The tobacco industry knows that reducing illicit trade will make it harder to get young people and the poor addicted to tobacco," said Adriana Blanco, PAHO's regional advisor on tobacco control. "This is one more case of big tobacco putting profits over people's lives."
Nicaragua and Uruguay were the first and second, respectively, countries in the Americas and worldwide to ratify the protocol. Both countries were honored as regional winners of the World No Tobacco Day awards in recognition of the ratification of the protocol and other advances in tobacco control. As of April 2015, six countries in other regions have also ratified the protocol, which needs a total of 40 ratifications to enter into force as international law.
The WHO FCTC, which has been ratified by 30 of 35 PAHO member countries, entered into force in 2005 and obliges ratifying countries to take a number of steps to reduce demand and supply for tobacco products. These include protecting people from exposure to tobacco smoke; counteracting illicit trade; banning advertising, promotion and sponsorship; banning sales by and to minors; putting large graphic health warnings on packages of tobacco; increasing tobacco taxes; creating a national coordinating mechanism for tobacco control; and protecting tobacco control policies from the commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry.
Tobacco is the only legal consumer product that kills when used exactly as intended by the manufacturer. Globally, approximately one person dies from a tobacco-linked disease every six seconds, equivalent to almost 6 million people a year. This death toll is forecast to rise to more than 8 million people a year by 2030, with more than 80% of these preventable deaths occurring among people in low-and middle-income countries.
- World No Tobacco Day Website
- PAHO/WHO honors Nicaragua, Uruguay and four tobacco control advocates with the 2015 World No Tobacco Day awards
- Tobacco: 10 years fighting a top killer in the Americas
- PAHO/WHO supports Uruguay in defending tobacco control policies against tobacco industry challenge
- PAHO program on tobacco control