WHO Tackles Problem of Illicit Tobacco Trade
New agreement comes after years of negotiation, policy adjustments
By:Connor Schratz




New regulation aims to ensure that all tobacco sold is done so legally.


When one thinks of illegal drugs, images of heroin trafficking, coca farms, and makeshift methamphetamine labs are likely to come to mine. Absent from these thoughts is a cigarette. Tobacco is legal in most countries, but the sale of illegal and unlicensed tobacco, sold underground to avoid regulation and taxes, is a major problem in some parts of the world, and one that the World Health Organization (WHO) met to address in Geneva this week.


“The illicit trade in tobacco products is one of the most dangerous trades around at the moment in terms of public health,” said Ian Walton-George, the Chairman of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body on the Protocol on the Illicit Trade of Tobacco Products. “It’s a way of getting cheap cigarettes, illegal cigarettes, into the hands of young people, poor people, people who are in a vulnerable position. And of course there’s huge profit to be made from the illegal trade in cigarettes.”


The WHO meeting ended in an agreement, after four years of negotiation, on a text that sought to eliminate all illicit trade of tobacco products. This agreement was signed by over 135 countries. This decision comes in the lead-up to World Health Day (April 7), when consumers are encouraged to consider the consequences of the choices that they make and go with healthier options.



Health institutions and many NGOs have fought against tobacco usage for its communally deleterious effects for years now. Citing the shared burden of healthcare costs and the targeting of minors by tobacco companies, these groups advocate anything from prohibitively high taxes on cigarette sales, to explicit warnings about the health effects of smoking, to outright illegalization.


Their efforts were rewarded in the form of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, one of the most widely accepted treaties in UN history, was adopted in 2005, aiming to raise awareness of the dangers of smoking and combat the tobacco industry as it sought to ingrain itself deeper into world markets.


“The tobacco industry is ruthless, devious, rich, and powerful. As we all know, neither WHO nor public health is rich, but with the Framework Convention now in place, we are indeed powerful,” said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan at an FCTC anniversary event last year.