WHO illicit tobacco protocol comes into force

As of this week, the World Health Organization’s protocol on illicit tobacco has been ratified by enough countries to enter into force.

The UK’s ratification cleared the threshold of 40 required ‘parties to the protocol’ on June 27, and the WHO Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products will now officially come into force 90 days thereafter.

It provides a framework for preventing and controlling illicit trade by securing the supply chain, including by establishing an international tracking and tracing system within five years of it coming into force, as well as law enforcement measures and initiatives to enable international cooperation.

In a statement, the WHO says the protocol “aims to secure the supply chain of tobacco products, through licensing, due diligence and record keeping, and requires the establishment of a global tracking and tracing regime that will allow governments to effectively follow up tobacco products from the point of production to the first point of sale.”

International cooperation will be necessary for it to success, and will hinge on “information sharing, technical and law enforcement, cooperation, mutual legal and administrative assistance, and extradition.” It adds.

As a consequence of the entry into force, the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) will now hold a meeting on October 8-10 in Switzerland which will bring together all parties for the first time.

The protocol “will send a clear message of the international community’s commitment to combating illicit trade in tobacco products worldwide”, commented WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

On the subject of track-and-trace (Article 8), the protocol says this should comprise “national and/or regional tracking and tracing systems and a global information sharing point located in the Convention secretariat.”

The system should cover all tobacco products manufactured or imported into a country, and be based on “unique, secure and non-removable identification markings…that are affixed to or form part of all unit packets and packages and any outside packaging.”

The data that should be accessible via the track-and-trace system is extensive, including:

(a) date and location of manufacture;

(b) manufacturing facility;

(c) machine used to manufacture tobacco products;

(d) production shift or time of manufacture;

(e) the name, invoice, order number and payment records of the first customer who is not affiliated with the manufacturer;

(f) the intended market of retail sale;

(g) product description;

(h) any warehousing and shipping;

(i) the identity of any known subsequent purchaser; and

(j) the intended shipment route, the shipment date, shipment destination, point of departure and consignee.

Of the above, the date and location of manufacture, manufacturing facility, product description and – where available – the intended market of retail sale should be included within the unique identification marking.

The EU already has tobacco traceability measures as required by the required by the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD), due to come into effect from May 20, 2019, but these have proved controversial and – according to some observers – do not fulfil the requirements of the WHO protocol because the solution being offered is insufficiently independent from the tobacco industry.

The protocol explicitly states that “obligations assigned to a party shall not be performed by or delegated to the tobacco industry.”


Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash

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