The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control

Our views on global tobacco control treaty’s key issues

From 1 to 6 October 2018, representatives from 181 national governments gathered in Geneva for the eighth session of the FCTC Conference of the Parties to discuss global tobacco control policies. Several important issues were on the agenda. Here, we explain our views on these and other issues.

The World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC)  is a global treaty on tobacco control. It came into force in 2005 and contains provisions aimed at, among other things, reducing tobacco consumption and toxicity. The treaty’s articles contain a number of binding obligations relating to the production, distribution, sale, promotion and taxation of tobacco products, as well as non-binding standards and recommendations.

To date, the FCTC has been ratified by 181 countries, known as ‘parties’. These parties make up the Conference of the Parties (COP), which serves as the governing body of the FCTC. Sessions of the COP take place every two years and typically result in decisions and recommendations on how countries can implement treaty provisions.

The eighth session of the COP took place from 1 to 6 October 2018 in Geneva. Over 1,200 people were expected to attend COP8, including party delegates as well as members of both accredited intergovernmental organisations (IGOs) and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). According to the provisional agenda , delegates were expected to discuss the following issues: tobacco product design features, contents and emissions; electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS, otherwise known as ‘electronic cigarettes’); advertising, promotion and sponsorship; trade and investment; and the extent to which the tobacco industry should be engaged and consulted on policy affecting it (Article 5.3).

We support the regulation of tobacco and nicotine products and aims to work with governments and policymakers to arrive at regulatory solutions that are based on robust evidence and consultation, that respect legal rights and deliver on intended outcomes.

We are transparent about our views regarding the key issues discussed at COP8 and actively and openly engage on issues impacting our business. Included below is a summary of our views on the key issues discussed at COP8.

In addition, our Principles for Engagement provide clear guidance for how we share and communicate our positions with regulators, politicians and other third parties.

Summary of key issues addressed at COP8

Transparency and participation

FCTC Article 5.3  addresses the relationship between the development of health policy and the tobacco industry. It states:

"In setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law.”

This treaty provision is often referenced as justification to exclude the tobacco industry from any and all engagement with policymakers. However, neither Article 5.3 nor subsequent FCTC recommendations explicitly prohibit industry-government interaction and most national laws and practices require an inclusive consultation process during the development of regulation.

We believe that the industry has a constructive and expert role to play in the development of effective regulation. Article 5.3 is best championed by principles of good governance and better regulation, particularly those promoted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) . These principles support the transparency, inclusivity and integrity of the regulatory process and, by doing so, protect policymaking from the undue influence of vested interests.

Electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS)

In the context of fast-growing consumer interest in ENDS (electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes), the World Health Organization was mandated at COP7 (Delhi, 2016) to provide a progress report  at COP8 on regulatory and market developments.

We believe that any approach to the regulation of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) and electronic non-nicotine delivery systems (ENNDS) should acknowledge the fact that these devices are not tobacco products and that there is a growing consensus that such products are significantly less harmful than cigarettes (Royal College of Physicians Report, April 2016 ).  There is also an increasing body of evidence that these products may help people quit smoking and could play a positive role in tobacco harm reduction strategies. As a result, we believe that e-cigarettes should not be treated the same as tobacco products and should be subject to a separate set of regulatory measures that allows for greater product innovation, establishes product standards, and permits communication of product information, attributes and relative risks to adult consumers.

Product design features, contents and emissions

FCTC Articles 9 and 10 are concerned with the testing, measurement and regulation of the contents and emissions of tobacco products. At COP7, the FCTC Secretariat was asked to provide a progress report  to COP8 covering addictiveness reduction, novel and emerging tobacco products and smokeless tobacco. COP8 was expected to have two areas of focus: the question of whether there is sufficient evidence to develop addictiveness-reduction measures for combustible products and a discussion on the evidence that can inform investigations into the risk potential of smokeless, and novel and emerging tobacco product categories, such as heated tobacco products.

We believe that investigation into the complex nature of addictiveness is valuable and that related work-streams should focus on factors that directly influence addiction, including individual smoking behaviour. But until this research is carried out and definitions and testing methods have been agreed regarding the contents and emissions of cigarettes, specific policy proposals concerning the regulation of addictiveness and product design features are premature. The COP should consider whether ENDS and novel tobacco products could contribute to the FCTC’s objective of reducing smoking prevalence, taking into account evidence from countries such as the UK.

In addition, we do not believe that proposals to restrict product design features such as capsules and slim cigarette formats are supported by the evidence. Regulation should be developed based on the impact of design features on both measured toxicity and/or smoking prevalence.

Tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (TAPS)

At COP7, the FCTC Secretariat was asked to establish an Expert Group to prepare a report  to consider the depiction of tobacco in entertainment media for COP8. The Expert Group recommended “developing additional implementation guidance for parties, for example an addendum to the existing Article 13 Guidelines, that is reflective of these transformations”, specifically focusing on social media and other online channels.

We believe that Article 13 already calls for a comprehensive ban on all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship and more resources should be allocated to the examination of the obstacles to countries’ implementation of Article’s provisions before drafting new guidelines.

Trade and investment

At COP7, the FCTC Secretariat was requested, in cooperation with the WHO, to report  to COP8 on public health measures including tobacco control measures that comply with international commitments; recent developments and decisions of international trade tribunals/forums regarding tobacco control measures that were implemented by parties in compliance with the WHO FCTC; and the tobacco control measures that are most frequently targeted by the tobacco industry.

We believe that trade and investment agreements already enable countries to regulate in the interest of public health, while simultaneously protecting the investment rights of private enterprises against discriminatory or unfair state actions. Recent investment arbitration awards demonstrate that international trade and investment rules pose no threat to tobacco control measures.

In relation to trade and investment, we do not believe that any further action is necessary by the FCTC Secretariat or the COP to ensure that governments can take measures to further their public health goals.