The fourth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP-4) to the global tobacco treaty has ended with major achievements for public health, despite unprecedented efforts by the tobacco industry to block any treaty progress. tobacco flavourings and additives (Articles 9 & 10).

This occurred despite the industry’s efforts to paint the guidelines as a ban on certain varieties of tobacco that would put the livelihoods of millions of farmers in jeopardy, particularly in the developing world. Instead, COP-4 delegates endorsed the guidelines’ aim of limiting flavourings that are used by tobacco companies to attract young smokers.

The COP also voted to create a working group that will draft guidelines on tobacco taxation. Tobacco tax increases are the single most effective short-term measure to reduce tobacco consumption, but are often blocked by lack of awareness in finance ministries of the added revenue (and public health gains) to be made.

Framework Convention Alliance (FCA) director Laurent Huber said: “Despite COP-4’s slow start, decisions taken by the sovereign states that negotiated the treaty this week demonstrated a willingness to protect the health of the citizens of the world rather than the interests of the tobacco industry.”

Successful outcomes from COP-4 were:

  • Guidelines on Article 9/10 that primarily dealt with tobacco additives, which increase tobacco product’s attractiveness, were adopted unanimously. This happened despite the tobacco industry’s elaborate public relations campaign to prevent adoption. China argued strongly against adoption until late Friday, but eventually joined the consensus.
  • As expected guidelines on Article 12 (education, communication, training and public awareness) passed without difficulty.
  • Guidelines on Article 14 (cessation policy) also passed without difficulty.
  • The mandate of the Article 17/18 working group was extended. This group is working on policy options and recommendations with respect to economically viable alternative livelihoods, particularly for tobacco growers.
  • The Parties agreed to create a working group to draft guidelines on Article 6 (price and tax measures), of which many Parties (over 30) immediately volunteered to join. However, after some very difficult budget negotiations, there is no money for this group to meet yet.
  • A decision was adopted to support Parties being attacked under trade and investment agreements for measures implementing the FCTC and its guidelines – in particular the host country, Uruguay, whose labelling and packaging requirements are under legal attack by Philip Morris.
  • In terms of financial resources and mechanisms of assistance it was decided to press for the case of linking FCTC implementation with international development efforts, including next year’s UN summit on non-communicable diseases.
  • The Illicit Trade Protocol negotiations will continue through 2012. Next year, an informal working group will work on unresolved issues from the last formal negotiating session (held in March 2010), as well as how the protocol will be financed and how it can best complement other agreements (for example the UN Convention on Transnational Organized Crime). A final negotiating session will take place in 2012.
  • The reporting cycle for Parties has changed effective of 2012, so everyone’s deadline meshes with the COP’s two-year cycle.
  • The Secretariat and WHO’s Tobacco Free Initiative will jointly prepare a report on liability issues (Article 19).
  • A mandate for an expert group on cross-border advertising was agreed. However, there is no money in the budget for this expert group, so extra funding is required.