More than 40 delegates representing 11 European countries met in Latvia for a workshop on illicit trade in tobacco products

Press release


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Today, more than 40 delegates representing 11 countries met in Riga, Latvia, to attend the multisectoral workshop for WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) Parties in the European Region on the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products (the Protocol).

The Protocol is the first international legal instrument to address illicit trade in tobacco products. It was adopted by consensus on 12 November 2012 by Parties to the WHO FCTC and entered into force on 25 September 2018.

To date, the Protocol counts 57 Parties, including the European Union and 15 Member States of the European Union.

The coming into force of the Protocol in September 2018 was a milestone in the history of tobacco control and public health. The Protocol contains a full range of measures to combat illicit trade in tobacco products, a global challenge that undermines public health, economic sustainability and international security. These measures span across three areas of action: preventing illicit trade through securing the supply chain of tobacco products, promoting law enforcement and providing the legal basis for international cooperation.

“One week ago, we celebrated a centenary of Latvian customs, therefore for us the timing of this workshop is especially suitable to reflect on the progress made so far. Since Latvia acceded to the Protocol in 2016, significant improvements have been made. In the second quarter of 2019, the percentage of cigarettes without the excise duty stamps of Latvia was 16.2% which is the lowest level seen since 2010. This success would not have been possible without effective cooperation with other stakeholders. We have been lucky to have the unwavering support of national and international agencies, as well as other countries. The issue of illicit trade in tobacco products is multi-dimensional and requires joint efforts of many stakeholders and partners”, said Mrs. Ingrīda Gulbe Otaņķe –Acting Deputy Director General on Customs Issues of the State Revenue Service, Director of National Customs Board, in opening the workshop.

Dr. Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, Head of the Secretariat of the WHO FCTC and its Protocols, said: “This phenomenon constitutes a serious threat to society in various dimensions. As the Parties to the Protocol recognize, illicit trade in tobacco products increases access to often cheaper tobacco products, thus fueling the tobacco epidemic. In addition to compromising the effectiveness of tobacco control efforts, it also causes substantial losses in government revenues, and contributes to the financing and proliferation of international criminal activities.”

Dr. da Costa e Silva congratulated Parties in the Region on the high rate of ratification of the Protocol and called on the Parties that have not yet joined the Protocol to do so. A recent World Bank report on confronting illicit cigarette trade found that governments worldwide stand to gain between 30 and 40 billion USD by eliminating illicit tobacco trade.

“The 181 Parties to the WHO FCTC have increasingly implemented comprehensive policies to curb illicit trade in tobacco products, as required by Article 15 of the Convention. In conjunction with the EU legislative efforts, this experience proves to be extremely valuable in working towards joining the Protocol as a Party and further implementing it.”

Dr. da Costa e Silva emphasized that effective implementation of the Protocol must involve the awareness and collaboration of a great array of government agencies, including customs, finance, justice and law enforcement, with the close engagement of the health sector. The health sector should continue promoting and supporting the Protocol, but such efforts should not come at the expense of other sectors’ leadership in the implementing the Protocol.

Multisectoral collaboration was a key ingredient in the two workshops recently organized by the Secretariat of the WHO FCTC and its Protocols in Jamaica and Brazil to raise government awareness about the Protocol. This was also identified as a priority in the first meetings of the two working groups of the Protocol which have just taken place in Panama at the end of November and Ecuador just last week.

Ultimately, the Protocol’s success will be measured in public health gains. “Illicit trade is estimated to account for one out of 10 cigarettes consumed. This makes cigarettes more affordable and available and increases consumption among youth in particular. The Protocol is about protecting the future generation from the harms of tobacco, be it licit or illicit.”, Dr. da Costa e Silva explained.

Delegates at the workshop agreed to work towards greater collaboration between government agencies, and with regional and international bodies in charge of law enforcement and customs. Mutual learning and support will be key to the effective implementation of the Protocol.

The workshop in Riga was funded by contributions from the European Commission.

Note to the editor

The Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products explained:

The Protocol is a new international treaty. It was built upon Article 15 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) and adopted by the Parties to the WHO FCTC in 2012. The Protocol counts 57 Parties from around the world. The Protocol was developed in response to the growing international illicit trade in tobacco products, which poses major health, economic and security concerns around the world. It is estimated that one in every 10 cigarettes and tobacco products consumed globally is illicit.

The Protocol consists of ten different parts, of which three - substantive parts - cover supply chain control, law enforcement and international cooperation. Important features include the establishment of a tracking and tracing system for tobacco products (Article 8) and the establishment of the Protocol as a basis for judicial cooperation such as mutual legal assistance (Article 29) between Parties. Furthermore, the Protocol provides officials in law enforcement, customs and the judiciary with the possibility to exchange information on possible offences concerning illicit trade in tobacco products.

The Protocol was negotiated by the Parties to the WHO FCTC over several years and entered into force on 25 September 2018. The first Meeting of the Parties (the MOP) to the Protocol was held in Geneva from 8 to 10 October 2018. The second MOP will take place in The Netherlands in November 2020.

Secretariat of the WHO FCTC and the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products.

Contact: mediafctc@who.int .

This document was produced with the financial assistance of the European Union. The views expressed herein can in no way be taken to reflect the official opinion of the European Union.