A new protocol to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) [text] intended to combat the illegal trade of tobacco products was unanimously approved on Monday. The protocol [draft text, PDF] was approved by 176 countries [AP report] during the Fifth session of the Conference of the Parties to the WHO FCTC [official website], which is being held in South Korea this week. Pursuant to the protocol, signatories are encouraged to adopt and implement effective measures to control or regulate the supply chain of tobacco goods to prevent, deter, detect, investigate and prosecute illicit trade in such goods, and to take any necessary measures in accordance with their national law to increase the effectiveness of their competent authorities and services, including customs and police responsible for preventing, deterring, detecting, investigating, prosecuting and eliminating all forms of illicit trade in goods covered by the FCTC. Director-General of the World Health Organization Margaret Chan said:
The protocol gives the world an orderly rules-based instrument for countering and eventually eliminating a sophisticated international criminal activity that costs a lot, also for health. Illicit trade is bad for health because it circumvents measures, like taxes and price increases, that are known to reduce demand. In other words, illicit trade seriously compromises effective implementation of the treaty.The protocol will go in to effect once it is ratified, but will not affect the US, Switzerland and a handful of other countries that are not party to the FCTC [list of signatories].
The FCTC was adopted in May 2003 by the World Health Assembly and opened for signature through June 2004. In October Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev proposed legislation that would ban tobacco advertisements [JURIST report] and public smoking and raise taxes on tobacco products. Earlier in October the High Court of Australia [official website] published its reasons for dismissing a lawsuit [JURIST reports] brought by several large tobacco companies challenging new labeling requirements [TPP Act] that require cigarette packages to display graphic images warning of the dangers of smoking and ban brand logos. Similar issues have arisen in the US. In August the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that tobacco companies do not need to print graphic warnings of the danger of smoking, but in March the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] ruled that graphic cigarette label warnings are constitutional [JURIST report]. The court decided unanimously that the portions of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act [HR 1256 text], signed [JURIST report] by President Barack Obama in 2009 and designed to limit the tobacco industry's ability to advertise to children, are a valid restriction on commercial free speech.