The Battle Against Illegal Tobacco
World lobbying groups against smoking are celebrating this week. A ground-breaking level of international cooperation has been achieved with a treaty to fight the prohibited trade in tobacco. Interested parties from most world governments and lobbyists came together on Monday, in South Korea, to unanimously agree the new protocol. It was at a meeting of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), an organization with the World Health Organisation with responsibility for the tobacco public health issue.
This new agreement introduces a new system of tracking codes to be applied on every legally produced pack of cigarettes. This means it will be an easy matter to identify counterfeit cigarette producers and distributors. The World Health Organization director-general, pushed hard for acceptance of what she says is a ‘game-changing’ treaty. “The protocol gives the world an orderly, rules-based instrument for countering and eventually eliminating a very sophisticated international criminal activity.”
The WHO believes 10 percent of all cigarettes bought around the World arrive at the market via illegal channels. The cost to national treasuries, because of taxes not collected, is estimated at $40 billion every year, and growing. National health services are picking up the tab for lung cancer caused but not getting the money from sales tax.
Founder company of ‘big tobacco’, Phillip Morris are keen on the new treaty but do not see it as a “silver bullet for resolving this serious issue. Preventive measures not covered under today’s agreement, such as regulating the essential materials used to produce tobacco products, should be considered by governments in the national implementation of this protocol.”
Phillip Morris are well motivated to eradicate this trade because, while they have 7 of the top-selling 15 brands, they have calculated that the combined output of the ‘black’ tobacco suppliers makes that sector the third largest supplier overall.
The federal government is also highly motivated to eradicate this trade, not just because of foregone tax revenue but also because the money from the trade adds to the funds of criminal and terrorist organisations. So it is worldwide, that representatives from 170 nations, signed on to the FCTC treaty, which for the first time focuses on the supply pipeline rather than on demand for the contraband tobacco.
The head of the anti-tobacco efforts at the American based ‘Corporate Accountability International’ believes that this week’s protocol will help cut down tobacco use. He says in a statement. “This is a huge victory for public health. The illicit trade in tobacco flood’s markets with cheap unregulated tobacco products which make them more widely available to children and the poor.”
Before it can be put into action the treaty has to be ratified by over forty countries and this will take several years. Even then the effectiveness of the measure will not become obvious, if at all for another decade after that.