Publication date: 
February 14, 2014

Even though the dangers of tobacco use have been well-documented for decades, concerted outreach is often essential to engage policymakers in the fight against tobacco.

The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) was under negotiation in the early 2000s, and while it looked like the world’s first ever legally binding treaty on public health was en route to ratification, the tobacco industry was working overtime to create doubt about tobacco’s “true” burden on health.

During the negotiations, the World Health Organization (WHO) released its World Health Report 2002 – Reducing Risks, Promoting Life It clearly documented the exploding global tobacco epidemic and showed how this health threat was disproportionately affecting lower-income countries. The report also projected that early death and disability from tobacco would nearly double by 2020. To avert early death and disability, researchers found that the taxation of tobacco is among the most cost-effective health policy actions throughout the world, in addition to restricting where people can smoke and other types of tobacco regulations.

“This report provides a road map for how societies can tackle a wide range of preventable conditions that are killing millions of people prematurely and robbing tens of millions of healthy life,” proclaimed Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General at WHO in 2002. “WHO will take this report and focus on the interventions that would work best in each region and on getting the information out to Member States.”

And that they did. The FCTC’s preamble clearly heeds the World Health Report 2002’s findings, recognizing the “increase in the worldwide consumption…of cigarettes and other tobacco products, particularly in developing countries” and that “scientific evidence has unequivocally established that tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke cause death, disease, and disability.” Taxation of tobacco products is heralded as one of the main “effective and important” legislative methods to reduce consumption.

On February 27, 2005, the FCTC was implemented in full force. Signed by 168 WHO member states, it signaled the triumph of scientific evidence over the influential and wealthy tobacco lobby. Today the FCTC agreement is viewed as one of the most successful public health law efforts worldwide.