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Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Meets in New Delhi for the Seventh Time

The seventh session of the Conference of the Parties (COP7) to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) began today.

The COP is the governing body of the Convention, which meets regularly to review its implementation and take decisions necessary to promote its effective implementation. During the opening day it was announced that Mozambique is to become the 181st Party to the Convention and Zimbabwe was welcome as the most recent Party to accede to the Convention.

Parties highlighted the progress they have made in implementation of the Convention and it shows there is increasing compliance with the provisions of the treaty. The report by the Secretariat of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Global Progress in Implementation of the WHO FCTC also notes the incredible advances made in implementing the measures of the treaty.

Key note address by President of Sri Lanka and opening ceremony

Dr Oleg Salagay of the Russian Federation chaired the session in his capacity as President of the COP and H.E. Mr Jagat Prakash Nadda, the Indian Minister of Health and Family Welfare, delivered an opening speech welcoming delegates and observers to the country.

Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena addressed COP7 on the inaugural day. The Sri Lankan President, who has also served as the Minister of Health is a strong advocate of tobacco control and successfully implemented laws to display pictorial warnings up to 80% on both sides of cigarette packets.

A statement on behalf of Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO, was conveyed to the delegates stressing the growing success of the Convention, and stating that, “In a world full of so many new and old threats, we turn to tobacco control as unquestionably our biggest, surest, and best opportunity to save millions of lives.”

The session is being attended by 136 Parties, as well as representatives of four States non-Parties. Staff from WHO and UNDP are attending, along with representatives from four intergovernmental and 13 nongovernmental organizations, accredited as observers. More than 1,300 participants are attending COP7.

The WHO FCTC successes

Delegates have heard how the Parties have overcome legal challenges from the tobacco industry and its front groups when implementing tobacco control measures, in some cases by opposing domestic legislation, and in others by using international trade and investment agreements to challenge Parties’ initiatives in curbing the tobacco epidemic.

The Head of the Convention Secretariat, Dr Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, noted that the period since COP6 in 2014 has seen significant success, saying, “We must applaud the bold action taken by many Parties during the last two years and it’s reassuring that the treaty and the standards adopted by COP have helped you protect your decisions against legal challenges.”

Interaction with the Parties has reached an all-time high with around three-quarters of Parties delivering implementation reports. As the treaty matures it has been establishing relationships beyond the health sector as its role in development and human rights has become more obvious. The Secretariat has engaged with the UN Interagency Task Force on Noncommunicable Diseases and recently has become a participant of the WHO Global Coordination Mechanism on prevention and control of NCDs.

Excluding the tobacco industry

Dr Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva asked for Parties to consider Article 5.3 dealing with tobacco industry interference. For the first time, under the guidance of the Bureau, note verbales had been sent requesting Parties to exclude representatives of partially or wholly state-owned tobacco companies from their delegations. This has helped the Secretariat adhere to its mandate and Dr Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva said, “We do not question the right of sovereign states to choose national representatives but we must be reminded that there is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict of interests between the tobacco industry and public health policy.”

The conference was warned that while delegates made decisions about the future implementation of the Convention there were malign forces close at hand. Dr Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva said, “There is another observer here, although its representatives may not always wear badges. The tobacco industry takes a very keen interest in COP meetings and makes every effort to insinuate itself into delegations and proceedings. If anyone doubts the importance of what we do here, always remember the industry’s malevolent presence and the strong need for transparency. “

The facts that drive tobacco control measures

Tobacco kills around 6 million people each year. This epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced. The gathering this week in India is the most important global anti-tobacco conference. The WHO FCTC was adopted in 2003 and has quickly become one of the most widely embraced treaties in the history of the United Nations. To date a total of 180 Parties have committed to implementing the treaty’s articles and obligations. It provides a united legal means of challenging a deadly addiction.

Concluding her remarks, Dr Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva encouraged the delegates, “I am certain that COP7 will mark a significant moment in our march towards a tobacco-free world.”

Note to Editors

COP7 is being held at the Expo Mart, Greater Noida in India, 7 – 12 November 2016. There will be daily press releases distributed from the conference.

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