Tobacco smuggling treaty holds the key to big cut in smoking deaths.

Friday 08 February 2008

On 11 February, representatives from more than 150 countries will meet in Geneva to begin negotiations on an historic international treaty to combat the illicit trade in tobacco products. Delegates will be aiming to have a meaningful treaty adopted by 2010. A commentary explaining the importance of this treaty is published today in The Lancet. [1]

Tobacco smuggling is a major problem both in the UK and globally because it undermines tax policies that are designed to reduce tobacco consumption. Raising the price of tobacco through taxation is the most effective way of preventing young people from starting to smoke and of persuading smokers to quit. But smuggling weakens this policy as smokers are tempted by cheap black market tobacco. In addition, Governments are deprived of much needed revenue which could otherwise be spent on health care. Globally it is estimated that the illicit trade in tobacco leads to government losses of about US$40 billion to $50 billion a year. [2]

Delegates at the conference in Geneva will be calling for the following measures to be included in the treaty:
• The marking of tobacco products so they can be tracked and traced from manufacture to point of sale, allowing illicit products, including counterfeit, to be identified.
• Licensing of participants within the supply chain to ensure they can be monitored effectively and to remove the licence of anyone found to be dealing in illicit products.
• Obligations on manufacturers to control the supply chain for their products, with serious financial penalties for those that fail to do so.
• Enhanced law enforcement and international cooperative measures, such as cooperation in investigation and prosecution of offences, information sharing, mutual legal assistance and extradition arrangements to enhance the ability of governments to work effectively together to overcome the illicit trade.

Deborah Arnott, Director of the health campaigning charity ASH, said:

“Although the UK has made great strides in tackling the smoking epidemic, tobacco smuggling continues to undermine the Government’s tax policy and means that the Treasury is losing around £2 billion a year in lost revenue. Smuggling also exacerbates health inequalities as criminals involved in the illicit trade tend to target smokers in socially-deprived areas.

“Because tobacco smuggling is a global problem it needs to be tackled by the international community. The FCTC protocol on tobacco smuggling is a vital piece of the tobacco control jigsaw and will result in the saving of millions of lives .”

The tobacco smuggling meeting coincides with the publication of a new report by the World Health Organisation which provides the first comprehensive look at what the world’s nations are doing to address this public health epidemic. The report shows that we already have the tools to eliminate tobacco as a major killer: what is needed is the political will to implement them. [3]

Notes and links:
[1] Arnott D et al. Smuggling treaty could reduce tobacco toll. The Lancet 2008; Vol. 371: 458-460.
For more information on the FCTC negotiations on illicit trade see:

[2] Framework Convention Alliance. How big was the illicit tobacco trade problem in 2006?

[3] The WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic 2008 can be viewed at:
The key policy recommendations – called MPOWER in the report – have been proven to reduce tobacco use:
Monitor tobacco use and assess the impact of tobacco prevention and cessation efforts;
Protect everyone from secondhand smoke with laws that require smoke-free workplaces and public places;
Offer help to every tobacco user to quit;
Warn and effectively educate every person about the dangers of tobacco use with strong, pictorial health warnings and hard-hitting, sustained media campaigns to educate the public;
Enact and enforce comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorships and on the use of misleading terms such as “light” and “low-tar;” and
Raise the price of tobacco products by increasing tobacco taxes.
Contact: Deborah Arnott 020 7739 5902 (w) 079 7693 5987 (m) ISDN available