Australia ratifies Tobacco Control Treaty

The global war on smoking has been given a major boost with Australia's ratification on 27 October 2004 of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).

This brings to 34 the number of countries to sign the international agreement, which is designed to reduce the devastating health and economic impact of cigarette smoking. With just six more ratifications, the agreement becomes international law, requiring that countries that ratify it implement comprehensive tobacco measures.

Dr Shigeru Omi, WHO's Regional Director for the Western Pacific, said, "Australia has provided excellent leadership on tobacco control, as well as during the intense FCTC negotiations." He added: "Its decision to ratify brings us one step closer to protecting present and future generations from the destructive force of tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke pollution."

Australia has been active since the 1970s in promoting and implementing tobacco control measures and comprehensive strategies. The Commonwealth of Australia, its states and territories, and key nongovernmental organizations have worked to institute measures such as strong smoke-free policies, increased taxes on tobacco products, and graphic health warning labels.

Australia typifies countries experiencing the later stages of the global tobacco epidemic: although smoking rates among most population subgroups have leveled or dropped, smoking rates are still high among young people. Over half of all Aboriginal people smoke. Almost one fifth of all Australians aged 14 and above smoke. Smoking is the single greatest cause of death and disease in Australia, causing an estimated 19 000 deaths each year. It is a key risk factor for ischaemic heart disease, cerebrovascular disease and lung cancer, the three diseases that cause the most deaths in Australia.

Tobacco is responsible for an estimated 3000 deaths per day in the Western Pacific Region. As a risk to health, it ranks first among developed countries; it is a contributor to five of the top 10 diseases and injuries. Worldwide, tobacco now accounts for 9% of all deaths.

The World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) is a legally binding treaty negotiated by the 192 WHO Member States. The world's first public health treaty, it provides the basic tools for countries to enact comprehensive tobacco-control legislation. Key provisions in the treaty encourage countries to:

  • enact comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship;
  • obligate the placement of rotating health warnings on tobacco packaging that cover at least 30% (but ideally 50% or more) of the principal display areas;
  • ban the use of misleading and deceptive terms such as "light" and"mild" cigarettes;
  • protect citizens from exposure to tobacco smoke in workplaces, public transport and indoor public places; and
  • increase tobacco taxes.

Final agreement on the WHO FCTC was reached at a gathering of the World Health Assembly, WHO's governing body, in Geneva in May 2003, after nearly four years of negotiations.

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