WHO illicit tobacco protocol closer as India gets on board

India’s government has said it plans to ratify a World Health Organization (WHO) protocol aimed at tackling the illicit trade in tobacco products.

The Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products provides tools for preventing and controlling illicit trade by securing the supply chain, including by establishing an international tracking and tracing system, through dissuasive law enforcement measures and a suite of measures to enable international cooperation. India’s Union Cabinet gave the go-ahead to the ratification of the protocol at a meeting yesterday.

WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the 17th World Conference on Tobacco or Health (WCTOH) in March that the illicit trade of tobacco products “creates a shadowy market that not only destroys health, but also fuels organized crime and deprives governments of tax revenues.”

At the time, he said 34 countries (including the EU as a bloc) had become parties to the protocol out of the 40 needed to bring it into force. He urged six more countries to ratify it by the July 2 this year in order to allow it to come into force.

If that occurs, the first session of the Meeting of the Parties to the Protocol will be convened October 8-10, directly after the Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). Togo and Turkey have since done so, bringing the latest tally to 36, and India will make it 37 – just a whisker away from crossing the threshold.

Estimates put the extent of the illicit trade globally at around 12 per cent of total consumption, although this can vary between countries with just 1 per cent in some to 40–50 per cent in others. The trade is estimated to cost around $40.5bn in lost revenues per year and – is curbed – could avoid 164,000 premature deaths.

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