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World ignores WHO’s treaty on illegal tobacco trade

The World Health Organization is still struggling to get countries to adopt a treaty committing countries to wipe out illegal trade in tobacco products, nearly four years after the international health body adopted it and asked countries to ratify it.

The treaty, adopted in November 2012, doesn’t require most countries to do what they already do to stop illicit trade in tobacco products, and generally requires that they put in place “effective” measures to meet that goal.

But it’s mostly been met with yawns from WHO members. As of this year, 54 countries have signed onto it, but almost four years after the signing ceremony, just 19 countries have taken steps to implement it.

Many of them are smaller countries, like Burkina Faso, Congo, Gabon, Latvia and Turkmenistan. The European Union has approved it, but most individual member countries still have to ratify it before that means anything.

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The U.S. is not a signatory.

The lack of interest forced the WHO to once more delay the implementation of the treaty this November in India. Under the treaty, 40 countries have to ratify it before it can be implemented.

A WHO official explained in mid-August that while a meeting to mark the implementation of the treaty “cannot be held in India” this November, he was hoping that other countries would soon ratify the deal. “Countdown to the Protocol entering into force is very much closer than the figures might at first indicate,” said Dr. Vera da Costa e Silva.

Skeptics of the treaty aren’t so sure. David Williams, president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, say the WHO has been fighting tobacco for the last several years, at a time when many think the WHO should stick to its more traditional missions.

“The WHO is struggling right now,” he told the Washington Examiner. “They’re not very popular. People want them to focus on Zika, focus on Ebola.”

Williams’ group was one of several who criticized the WHO back in June for pushing against tobacco so hard that it issued a direct warning people in Syria that smoking will kill them — right in the midst of its bloody, five-year civil war that has killed and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

“Syrians are fleeing for their lives yet these appalling unelected puritans think now is the time to tell them not smoke,” said one critic of the WHO from the United Kingdom.

Williams added that the WHO’s efforts to crack down on tobacco use in general are likely leading to increased trade in black market tobacco products.

“When you have an organization that wants to tax this product, the black market wants to take advantage of that,” he said. “Guys, you created this problem.”

For now, the WHO is likely to continue pressuring smaller countries to ratify the deal, in the hopes that larger countries follow. But it’s not clear whether or when the group will reach the 40 countries needed to implement it.

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