Minutes - TRIPS Council - View details of the intervention/statement

Ambassador Federico A. González (Paraguay) (24-25 October) and Mr. Martin Glass (Hong Kong, China) (17 November)
World Health Organization (WHO)
438. The representative of the World Health Organization thanked the Council for the opportunity to address the floor on this critical public health issue. As previously stated in this forum, tobacco use was one of the greatest threats to public health the world has ever faced, and the single most preventable cause of death in the world. Globally, tobacco consumption had killed nearly six million people a year through both direct use, and the deadly effects of second-hand smoke - more than 70 per cent of whom resided in low- and middle-income countries. In addition, tobacco represented the leading modifiable risk factor in the fight against the growing epidemic of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). NCDs, primarily cancers, diabetes, cardiovascular and chronic lung diseases, were accountable for 63 per cent of all deaths worldwide. Those diseases killed an astounding 36 million people each year, with nearly 80 per cent of deaths were occurring in low- and middle-income countries. 439. He said that, as strong tobacco control measures were implemented in developed countries, the tobacco industry, through aggressive marketing and interference practices, had shifted its focus to new markets in the developing world. As a result, tobacco-attributable mortality was rapidly increasing in developing countries, and, by 2030, more than 80 per cent of the world's tobacco deaths would occur in low- and middle-income countries. Given that smoking caused 30 per cent of all cancers, which included over 70 per cent of all lung cancers, 40 per cent of chronic respiratory diseases, and nearly 10 per cent of all cardiovascular diseases, it was a critical moment in the global fight against the tobacco epidemic for the introduction of strong public health interventions like the measure under consideration. 440. He said that that the economic costs of tobacco use were equally as devastating as the public health costs. Although the tobacco industry had routinely cited the economic contribution of tobacco, the reality had been that tobacco use puts an enormous financial burden on countries, in addition to the fact that tobacco and poverty were inextricably linked at the individual level. Nationally, the costs of tobacco use encompassed increased health-care costs, lost productivity due to illness, premature death, and widespread environmental damage. Thus, he said, as tobacco consumption rates and tobacco-related illnesses increased in developing countries, so did tobacco-related healthcare costs. Additionally, conservative estimates suggested that tobacco's more than US$500 billion drain on the world economy exceeded the total annual health expenditures in low- and middle-income countries. The economic burden of NCDs, with tobacco representing the largest risk factor, was also staggering. 441. Recent macroeconomic simulations suggested that, over the next two decades, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, cancer, and diabetes, would cause a cumulative output loss of more than US$30 trillion, which represented 48 per cent of global GDP in 2010. This in turn would push millions of people across the planet below the poverty line. Because NCDs would result in long-term macroeconomic impacts on labour supply, capital accumulation and GDP worldwide, with the consequences most severe in developing countries, strong public health interventions, like the plain packaging measure under deliberation, were relevant in addressing both health and economic concerns. 442. The representative noted that the impact of tobacco and NCDs on both public health and country economies has been highlighted at the recent United Nations High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases, which had been held in September 2011 in New York. There, the UN General Assembly, comprised of Heads of State, had adopted a Political Declaration recognizing the fundamental conflict of interest between the tobacco industry and public health; and wherein Member States unanimously had committed to the advancement of the implementation of multi-sectoral, cost-effective, population-wide interventions in order to reduce the impact of NCD risk factors. 443. He said that the WHO was of the view that the implementation of plain tobacco product packaging, which represented a legitimate tobacco control measure, would have a substantial impact on tobacco consumption, was fully in line with the spirit and intent of the outcome of the UN High-level Meeting, and was in accordance with international legal obligations under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. 444. Regarding the relevance of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in this context, another representative of the WHO said that the FCTC, in force since 2005, had been negotiated under the auspices of the WHO in response to the globalization of the tobacco epidemic. Its provisions were based on evidence and had been specifically designed by the international public health community to be effective in the face of the tobacco epidemic. As with other international legal instruments, states that were parties to the FCTC undertook certain obligations pursuant to it. Since the last time the Council had met, the number of parties to the Convention had risen to 174 - only 12 of the 153 WTO Members were not party to the FCTC. 445. She said that the FCTC contained a number of provisions that were relevant to the issue of plain packaging of tobacco products. As had been noted during the last session of the TRIPS Council, the FCTC set out in Article 3 the collective objectives of the parties in the establishment of the FCTC, as well as the general Article 5 obligation on parties, which included, inter alia, the obligation to "develop, implement, periodically update and review comprehensive multi-sectoral national tobacco control strategies, plans and programmes in accordance with" the FCTC. 446. The recognition by the States Parties of the effectiveness of comprehensive multi-sectoral measures in the fight against the global tobacco epidemic was a theme that recurred throughout the Convention and the obligations it contained. It was through the implementation of such a comprehensive multi-sectoral approach that the tobacco control measures contained in the FCTC were most effective. In relation to the plain packaging measures for tobacco currently under discussion, the representative noted that Article 11 of the Convention required Parties to adopt and implement effective measures in respect of the packaging and labelling of tobacco products, which included health warnings and other appropriate messages. 447. In accordance with the recent party reports on implementation, which were required pursuant to Article 21 of the Convention, 65 per cent of parties - i.e. 88 of them - had banned descriptors on packaging and labelling that were misleading, deceptive or likely to create an erroneous impression of the product; and 82 per cent - or 111 parties - had adopted policies which required tobacco product packaging to carry health warnings which described the harmful effects of tobacco smoke. In addition, 74 per cent of parties - or 100 of them - had introduced measures to ensure that health warnings are large, clear, visible and legible. Moreover, after five years of implementation, Article 11 was one of the Articles of the Convention which attracted the highest implementation rates among Parties. 448. She said that another specific provision of the FCTC previously noted in the Council was Article 13, which required Parties to undertake a comprehensive ban of all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. That comprehensive ban had to be read in light of the broad definition of “tobacco advertising and promotion” which, in accordance with Article 1(c) "means any form of commercial communication, recommendation or action with the aim, effect or likely effect of promoting a tobacco product or tobacco use either directly or indirectly.” The Guidelines for the implementation of Article 13 which were adopted by consensus by the parties included "packaging and product design features" on the indicative list of forms of advertising, promotion and sponsorship. She noted that the most recent Party reports indicated that 55 per cent of Parties - i.e. 74 of them - had introduced a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. 449. Information submitted by parties that had reported twice had allowed an analysis of the progress in implementation of various obligations under the Convention. Between one-third and one-half of Parties that had reported twice had registered progress through the introduction of stronger health warnings and in banning advertising, promotion and sponsorship. This indicated that Parties were undertaking progressively more stringent tobacco control measures in accordance with their Article 11 and Article 13 obligations. 450. Finally, as had been noted in the Council during its June session, the governing body of the Convention, the Conference of the Parties or COP, had met for its 4th session in November 2010. At that session, the COP had adopted the Punta del Este Declaration (FCTC/COP4(5)) in relation to public health policy, international trade and the activities of the tobacco industry. The Punta del Este Declaration reiterated the firm commitment of Parties to the FCTC "to prioritize the implementation of health measures designed to control tobacco consumption" and made specific reference to Articles 7 and 8 of the TRIPs Agreement, as well as to paragraphs 4 and 5(a) of the Doha Declaration on the TRIPs Agreement and Public Health, which was adopted by the 4th session of the WTO Ministerial Conference in November 2001. 451. In light of concerns expressed regarding illicit trade in tobacco products, she noted that the negotiation of the first protocol to the FCTC, the draft Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, was in its final stages, and the last session was expected to be held in 2012. Moreover, work was continuing in respect of the identification of economically sustainable alternatives to tobacco growing in relation to Articles 17 and 18 of the Convention.