Framework Convention on Tobacco Control

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The World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) is an international treaty that aims to reduce the demand and supply of tobacco.  It entered into force on 27 February 2005, with 168 signatories, and is “one of the most widely embraced treaties in UN history”.12

After 2004, countries wishing to become a Party to the treaty could do so by a process of accession (equivalent to ratification). In December 2020, the FCTC had 182 Parties.2

The full text of the treaty can be found here in English, French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic and Chinese.1

Image from FCTC website

Image 1: The United Nations Framework Convention on Tobacco Control celebrated its 15 year anniversary in 2020. (Image source: FCTC website)

Protect Health Policy from Commercial Interests

The WHO FCTC includes a specific obligation to protect public health policies from interference by the tobacco industry and those representing the interests of the tobacco industry. The treaty defines the tobacco industry as “tobacco manufacturers, wholesale distributors and importers of tobacco products”.1

Article 5.3 states that:

“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”.1

In November 2008, specific Guidelines for Implementation of Article 5.3 were adopted to support governments in efforts to limit tobacco industry interference with tobacco control and health policies.34

The Guidelines’ first principle states:

“There is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry interests and public health policy interests”.3

The Guidelines apply to:

“government officials, representatives, and employees of any national, state, provincial, municipal, local or other public or semi/quasi-public institution or body responsible for, or that contributes or could contribute, to developing or implementing tobacco control policies, and to any persons acting on their behalf”.3

Click here for the full text of the Article 5.3 Guidelines.

Recommendations to Prevent Industry Influence

The FCTC Guidelines for Implementation of Article 5.3 lists eight recommendations for Parties to address tobacco industry interference in public health policies:3

  1. Raise awareness about the addictive and harmful nature of tobacco products and about tobacco industry interference with Parties’ tobacco control policies.
  2. Establish measures to limit interactions with the tobacco industry and ensure the transparency of those interactions that occur.
  3. Reject partnerships and non-binding or non-enforceable agreements with the tobacco industry.
  4. Avoid conflicts of interests for government officials and employees.
  5. Require that information provided by the tobacco industry be transparent and accurate.
  6. Denormalise, and, to the extent possible, regulate activities described as “socially responsible” by the tobacco industry, including but not limited to activities described as “corporate social responsibility”. (see section below)
  7. Do not give preferential treatment to the tobacco industry.
  8. Treat State-owned tobacco industry in the same way as any other tobacco industry.

Tobacco Industry’s ‘Corporate Social Responsibility is an Inherent Contradiction’

In many countries, tobacco companies are not permitted to advertise or promote their products by law (see the Tobacco Control Laws website for up to date information). They therefore engage in ‘corporate social responsibility’ (CSR) activities as an alternative route to reach wider audiences.

Article 5.3 Guidelines indicate that such CSR activities are a violation to the FCTC, stating the following:3

“The tobacco industry conducts activities described as socially responsible to distance its image from the lethal nature of the product it produces and sells or to interfere with the setting and implementation of public health policies. Activities that are described as “socially responsible” by the tobacco industry, aiming at the promotion of tobacco consumption, is a marketing as well as a public relations strategy that falls within the Convention’s definition of advertising, promotion and sponsorship.”

The Guidelines add:3

“The corporate social responsibility of the tobacco industry is, according to WHO, an inherent contradiction, as industry’s core functions are in conflict with the goals of public health policies with respect to tobacco control.”

Long History of Tobacco Industry Interference

The idea of an international instrument for tobacco came was proposed in 1995 with negotiations to set up an international framework on tobacco control beginning in 1999. By 1997, the tobacco industry had already began attempts to undermine the concept, planning a “comprehensive strategy to influence the tobacco-control vehicle that eventually emerges from UN/WHO policies”.5

Philip Morris International (PMI) commissioned the consultancy group Mongoven, Biscoe & Duchin Inc. (MBD) to write two white papers to explore the international framework convention process and the idea of establishing an “NGO capability to help counter the anti-tobacco NGO influence at international agencies”.6

Aiming to derail the FCTC was deemed to be unrealistic. However, MBD suggested that PMI could have an influence on the final texts.7 PMI were advised to try and influence the drafting of the FCTC through collusion with governments that have tobacco-related interests and by working with other international agencies.8 These recommendations led to multiple moves by PMI to attempt to influence the FCTC, including attempts to secure WHO accreditation for industry-aligned NGOs so that industry positions could be represented at FCTC negotiations.9

PMI and other tobacco manufacturers also “cultivated relationships with tobacco-friendly governments”7 such as Japan and Malawi in attempts to weaken the FCTC. 10

Internal documents from 2000-2001 include examples of PMI attempting to influence the FCTC in relation to smuggling specifically. In 2000, for example, PMI argued to the US Departments of Commerce and Health and Human Services that government involvement with the tobacco industry would be a more-effective way of combating illicit trade than the measures put forward in the FCTC.11

Consultants MBD also suggested to PMI that future protocols following on from the FCTC would have a bigger impact on the tobacco industry than the FCTC itself and so should be considered PMI’s main focus.7

Relevant Links

TobaccoTactics Resources


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  1. abcdWorld Health Organization, WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, 2003, accessed June 2022
  2. abUnited Nations, Chapter IX Health, 4. WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, treaty record and status, 23 November 2020, accessed June 2022
  3. abcdefWorld Health Organization, Guidelines for implementation of Article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC, 2008
  4. World Health Organization, Guidelines for implementation of Article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC, 2013
  5. Mongoven, Biscoe & Duchin Inc., An Analysis of Non-Governmental Organizations from a United Nations Perspective, 1997, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 2063798552-2063798612
  6. Mongoven, Biscoe & Duchin Inc., An Analysis of the International Framework Convention Process, 1997, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 2074786207-2074786288
  7. abcM. Gonzalez, L. Green, S. Glantz, Through tobacco industry eyes: civil society and the FCTC process from Philip Morris and British American Tobacco’s perspectives, Tobacco Control, 2012;21:e1, doi:10.1136/tc.2010.041657
  8. H. Mamudu, R. Hammond, S. Glantz, Tobacco industry attempts to counter the World Bank report Curbing the epidemic and obstruct the WHO framework convention on tobacco control, Social Science & Medicine, 2008;67(11):1690-1699, doi:10.1016%2Fj.socscimed.2008.09.062
  9. D. Bushong, Second draft WHO Action Plan, 8 April 1998, Philip Morris Records, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 2065284757-2065284760
  10. M. Assunta, E. Dorotheo, SEATCA Tobacco Industry Interference Index: a tool for measuring implementation of WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Article 5.3, Tobacco Control, 2016;25:313-318, doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2014-051934
  11. Philip Morris International, Response to Request for Public Comment on the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Requested by the United States Departments of Commerce and Health and Human Services 15 March 2000, 2000, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 2078354815-2078354838