Side event: “UN Inter-Agency Task Force on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases: working with Member States to deliver the NCD-related Sustainable Development Goal targets during and beyond COVID-19”

September 24, 2020


On the occasion of the opening week of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly

Speech of Dr Adriana Blanco Marquizo, Head of the Convention Secretariat
24 September 2020

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

The adoption of the WHO FCTC in 2003 brought a new legal dimension to international health cooperation.

It was the first global public health negotiated under the auspices of the World Health Organization, and has been widely embraced – with 182 Parties now on board.

Drawing on Article 15 of the Convention, which addresses illicit trade in tobacco products, negotiations across the globe led to a second legally binding international health treaty – the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products.

The Protocol entered into force in September 2018, and today it has 62 Parties.

The WHO FCTC has been globally recognized as an accelerator for sustainable development.

This is clearly evident from the inclusion of Target 3.a in the Sustainable Development Goals, which calls on all countries to strengthen implementation of the WHO FCTC.

Implementation of the Convention’s mandates has resulted in a steady decrease globally in tobacco use among both adult men and women across all income groups – a trend that is projected to continue.

However, our work is far from over.

The total number of adult tobacco users – around 1.4 billion – remains unacceptably high.

If the implementation of the WHO FCTC and the Protocol are not strengthened, the projected decrease of one-third in the prevalence of tobacco use is not going to be achieved by 2030.

And this, inevitably, will impact another important goal, the decrease by one-third of premature mortality due to noncommunicable diseases.

That is why the Eighth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the WHO FCTC adopted the Global Strategy to Accelerate Tobacco Control: Advancing Sustainable Development through the Implementation of the WHO FCTC 2019–2025.

The Strategy, among its many indicators, monitors the number of Parties that include WHO FCTC implementation in their voluntary reports on domestic implementation of the SDGs in relation to Target 3.a.

More than one-third of the reports prepared so far have included the WHO FCTC, and we urge more countries to follow suit.

The Convention Secretariat chairs the Tobacco Control Thematic Group in the UN Interagency Task Force and takes the lead in promoting the Model Policy to prevent tobacco industry interference in the work of UN agencies.

The Convention Secretariat also advocates for 100% smoke-free UN campuses, leads a joint project on promoting economically sustainable alternatives to tobacco growing, and supports initiatives on tobacco control among school-aged children.

However, the sole presence of the WHO FCTC on the development agenda is no guarantee of success.

Many challenges can compromise further progress, especially the COVID-19 pandemic and the omnipresent, never-ending interference of the tobacco industry in tobacco control efforts.

The facts are sobering: Almost one-fourth of the world’s population is estimated to have an underlying condition – mainly NCDs – that increases their vulnerability to COVID-19 and the risk of severe disease and death from it.

Unfortunately, smokers also share this poor prognosis.

Addressing NCDs in general and tobacco use in particular must be an integral part of the immediate COVID-19 response and of the recovery at the global, regional and national levels, as well as of part of building-back-better strategies.

And to do that, it will be vital to strengthen implementation of the WHO FCTC

Supporting tobacco users who want to quit the habit has never been as important as it is now, particularly with the population sensitized about the importance of health.

Increasing tobacco taxes is one measure that can provide multiple wins – by decreasing tobacco consumption, increasing government revenue and saving future costs to the health systems by preventing the onset of more NCDs.

Tobacco taxes are, in fact, recommended in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on financing for development.

The Protocol also has an important role to play since it can help to protect and increase much-needed government revenues.

And to support the implementation of these two treaties– the WHO FCTC and the Protocol – there is a need to be acutely aware of tobacco industry interference and to counteract it.

The tobacco industry has taken advantage of the global COVID-19 pandemic by increasing its so-called Corporate Social Responsibility activities in an attempt to improve the industry’s already damaged reputation.

An inherent contradiction, indeed!

Finally, let me say a few words about the emerging issue of heated tobacco products.

Heated tobacco products obviously are – as their name indicates – tobacco products, something the Conference of the Parties to the WHO FCTC already had determined.

And lately, many governments have been approached by those seeking more lenient regulation of these products.

Let me remind you that reduced exposure to some harmful or potentially harmful chemicals does not render these heated tobacco products harmless.

Nor does it translate necessarily to reduced risk to human health and even worse – as research has shown that these products increase exposure to other potentially harmful or harmful chemicals.

In closing, the Convention Secretariat remains steadfastly committed to support the Parties to the WHO FCTC and to the Protocol in their efforts to attain the goal of a healthy and sustainable world for all, free of the tobacco epidemic.

Thank you very much.