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Should NZ Enforce The Global Tobacco Treaty?

Why Should New Zealand Enforce The Global Tobacco Treaty (FCTC)?


By Bobby Ramakant

Why did we need a global tobacco treaty to prevent needless diseases, disabilities and deaths attributed to tobacco use in New Zealand and national legislations weren't enough? Bobby Ramakant explains the need for comprehensive global corporate accountability and public health treaty FCTC.

New Zealand ratified the global tobacco treaty, better known as Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), on 27 January 2004. FCTC was developed as a global response to the globalization of the tobacco epidemic. Adopted in May 2003 by the 56th World Health Assembly, FCTC quickly became one of the most widely embraced treaties in history, becoming international binding law on 27 February 2005.

Increased trade, foreign investment, global marketing and other complex international phenomena have led to the globalization of the tobacco epidemic. As the epidemic transcends national borders, its control requires international cooperation and multilateral regulation.

Tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death in the world, with an estimated 4.9 million deaths a year. If current smoking patterns continue, the toll will nearly double by 2020. A high percentage of deaths (70%) will occur in developing countries. Tobacco kills people at the height of their productivity, depriving families of breadwinners and nations of a healthy workforce.

There is no doubt that reducing the rates of uptake and consumption of tobacco will save lives and that the FCTC is the evidence-based tool with which to do it. It has been projected that with a progressive 50% reduction in uptake and consumption rates, as many as 200 million lives could be saved by the year 2050 ¨D and hundreds of millions more thereafter.

By becoming Parties (signing and ratifying FCTC by national parliaments) and implementing the provisions of the treaty where it counts most ¨C at country level ¨C countries are working towards a tobacco-free world and towards millions of lives saved. 146 countries have signed and ratified the treaty so far.

It is the first legal instrument designed to reduce tobacco-related deaths and disease around the world.

Among its many measures, the FCTC treaty requires countries to impose restrictions on tobacco advertising, sponsorship and promotion; establish new packaging and labelling of tobacco products; establish clean indoor air controls; and strengthen legislation to clamp down on tobacco smuggling.

Advertising, sponsorship and promotion
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Tobacco products are advertised through sports events, music events, films, fashion - in fact, any place where the tobacco industry can target potential new smokers (young people). The treaty obliges Party States to undertake a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, as far as their constitutions permit.

Packaging and labelling of tobacco products
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As advertising restrictions are implemented, tobacco packaging plays an increasingly important role in encouraging tobacco consumption. The treaty obliges Party States to adopt and implement large, clear, visible, legible, and rotating health warnings and messages on tobacco products and its outside packaging, occupying at least 30% of the principal display areas. This is required within three years of entry into force of the Convention.

Protection from exposure to tobacco smoke
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Second-hand smoke is a real and significant threat to public health. Children are at particular risk - exposure to tobacco smoke in children can cause respiratory disease, middle ear disease, asthma attacks, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The treaty obliges Party States to adopt and implement (in areas of existing national jurisdiction as determined by national law), or promote (at other jurisdictional levels), effective measures providing for protection from exposure to tobacco smoke in indoor workplaces, public transport, indoor public places and, as appropriate, other public places.

Illicit trade in tobacco products
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Cigarettes are smuggled widely throughout the world. In addition to making international brands more affordable and accessible, illegal cigarettes evade restrictions and health regulations. The treaty obliges State Parties to adopt and implement effective measures to eliminate illicit trade, illicit m anufacturing, and counterfeiting of tobacco products.

Effective implementation of FCTC is indeed a huge challenge countries are confronted with. There is a long way to go for effective comprehensive tobacco control to become a reality.

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(The author is a health and development journalist, senior tobacco control advocate and member of Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals (NATT) and Asia representative for Global Youth Advocacy Training Network (GYAT). He can be contacted at: bobbyramakant@yahoo.com)

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