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WHO on Track to Combat Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products


Representatives from some 130 countries have wrapped up a first round of talks aimed at achieving a legally binding international treaty to curb the smuggling, counterfeiting, and illicit manufacturing of tobacco products. The new protocol is being negotiated under the auspices of the World Health Organization and will be added to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Lisa Schlein reports from Geneva.

Participants at the meeting call the smuggling of cigarettes and other tobacco products the evil trade. They say it is crucial to stop the illicit trafficking of products that kill more than five million people a year.

Deborah Arnott is a Board Member for the European Region of the Framework Convention Alliance, a consortium of over 300 organizations in over 100 countries. She calls the work done on a negotiated draft treaty this week a giant leap forward in the fight against tobacco-related deaths and disease.

She says the development of a strong text will help to prevent young people from starting to use tobacco and will persuade existing tobacco users to quit.

"Smuggling makes international premium-priced brands available on the black market at much lower prices," she said. "In the U.K., where I come from, typically half the price of taxed cigarettes. And, the trade in illicit tobacco is strongly linked not just to corruption and transnational organized crime groups, but also has been shown to fund global terrorism. This illicit trade not only undermines health policy, but also robs governments of tax revenue.... Worldwide, the loss to government coffers has been estimated by the Framework Convention Alliance to be up to 50 U.S. billion dollars a year."

Measures contained in this first draft treaty include systems for tracking and tracing tobacco products. They call for international cooperation on investigation, and prosecution of illicit trade cases, criminalization and increased penalties for illegal activity and enhanced law enforcement.

Chair of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body on a protocol on illicit trade in tobacco products, Ian Walton-Georges, says one of the best ways of combating smuggling is to find out who is behind it.

"Often you will find situations where legally traded tobacco, cigarettes, falls off the legal chain and is diverted into the illegal channels," he said. "A lot of this is seized by the custom authorities. They are effective in what they do. But, of course, what we need to do is once we seize the cigarettes, we need to know where it comes from, whose hands its gone through, what transport routes have been used. Whether it came from a particular part of the world and so on."

Walton-Georges says a protocol would bring together all the law enforcement and civil authorities involved in combating the illicit trade, giving it greater strength.

Parties involved in the negotiation will meet at least one more time this year to move the Protocol forward. They hope to have a treaty finalized and ready for adoption in late 2010.

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