Intended for healthcare professionals


WHO to push for swift implementation of tobacco accord

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 29 May 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:1162
  1. Fiona Fleck
  1. Geneva

    After four years of talk the World Health Organization has adopted a landmark accord to curb deaths and disease from tobacco use but faces an uphill task in ensuring that, to be effective, it is ratified by the 40 signatory states.

    Embedded Image

    Dr Jong Wook Lee, incoming director, WHO (see News Extra)


    The framework convention on tobacco control envisages larger health warnings on cigarette packs, tougher laws on tobacco smuggling, new controls on passive smoking, and restrictions on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship.

    The accord was adopted at the annual World Health Assembly of 192 nations in Geneva on 21 May, after the United States and Germany dropped their objections to the final text in a last minute turnabout (24 May, p 1103). WHO officials said it would take 6 to 12 months for the 40 countries to ratify the accord.

    About 20 states, including Fiji and Tonga, said they already had the necessary support from their cabinets or heads of state and would ratify it fast. The European Union and Japan said they would ratify the agreement as soon as possible but are not expected to act quickly because of their complex political systems.

    Some EU states, such as the United Kingdom, have already implemented parts of the accord in their national legislation—but other aspects of the accord, such as a ban on cross border advertising, cross border sharing of information sharing, and tougher laws on tobacco smuggling, are new.

    Tommy Thompson, the US health secretary, said that although he supported the convention, Washington was reviewing the text, hinting that it would not be ratified soon.

    WHO director general Gro Harlem Brundtland, who has made the anti-tobacco campaign a top priority during her five year tenure, hailed the adoption of the convention as a “historic moment in global public health” and said the agreement would save “billions of lives and protect people's health for generations to come.”

    Dr Jong Wook Lee of South Korea, who takes over from Dr Brundtland on 21 July, pledged to continue her work. “This is not the end but just the beginning,” said Dr Lee, adding, “I think I will spend substantial time and effort to make it work.”