Multisectoral workshop for WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Parties in the European Union to promote the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, Riga (Latvia)

Opening address by the Head of the Convention Secretariat
9 December 2019

Dear Mrs Ingrīda Gulbe-Otaņķe –Acting Deputy Director General on Customs Issues of the State Revenue Service, Director of National Customs Board, Latvia

Distinguished delegates,

Dear colleagues from the international intergovernmental organizations,

Dear friends from nongovernmental organizations,

Dear members of the academia,

It is my great pleasure to welcome you all to the Multisectoral workshop for WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) Parties in the European Union to promote the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products.

It is my great pleasure to welcome you all to the Multisectoral workshop for WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) Parties in the European Union to promote the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products.

First of all, I would like to thank the Government of Latvia, and especially Mrs Gulbe-Otaņķe, for so graciously hosting us in this beautiful city and location. I would also like to thank our colleagues in the Directorate General for Health of the European Commission, whose financial and technical support was instrumental in ensuring this meeting could take place.

Dear delegates, it is commendable to see many of the Parties to the Convention responding to our call for nominations to attend this event. The entry into force of the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products in September last year represented a great step forward in the global efforts to protect public health in the face of the tobacco epidemic. However, it is just the start of a process aimed at equipping Parties with the necessary tools to combat illicit tobacco.

Building on the key elements and experience of implementing Article 15 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the Protocol empowers Parties to go further. They can do so according to their domestic needs and legal frameworks, and together, as regional groups and a global community combatting a problem with cross-border roots and effects.

The implementation of Protocol obligations requires the involvement of several government agencies that go beyond the health sector and include customs, finance and law enforcement. The health sector should continue promoting and supporting but never replacing other sectors’ leadership in the implementation of the Protocol. I am very pleased to see many delegates from these sectors attending this workshop and we are looking forward to a very fruitful cooperation in the years to come.

Today we will hear from members of the academia who participated in a Pilot project on illicit tobacco trade on their research efforts in identifying key trends and solutions in combatting this phenomenon. We will also hear from Parties on their experience in combatting illicit tobacco trade, and in particular we hope to raise awareness about some of the challenges faced by customs authorities working on the ground to prevent smuggling of products into national and European borders. Discussing challenges together prompts sharing insights about solutions. With the Protocol still in its early implementation stages, mutual learning and support will be crucial to unleashing the full potential of this international instrument.

Tomorrow there will be time to obtain a more detailed perspective on the Protocol, the international community’s response to the growing international illicit trade in tobacco products. We will hear about the Protocol’s key provisions to secure the tobacco supply chain, support the investigation and prosecution of illicit trade in tobacco products, and provide for much-needed international cooperation in technical, scientific and legal fields.

The 181 Parties to the WHO FCTC have already and increasingly implemented comprehensive policies to curb the tobacco epidemic, including in the area of combatting illicit trade in tobacco products, as required by Article 15 of the Convention. In conjunction with the EU legislative efforts many of them are working towards implementing an effective framework against illicit tobacco products. This experience proves to be extremely valuable in working towards joining the Protocol as a Party and further implementing it.

This is an exciting time for progress. However, we should stay vigilant. The tobacco industry is skilful at derailing tobacco control policies: price and taxes increases, plain packaging, tobacco advertisement, promotion and sponsorship bans - all essential to protect public health. The industry works hard to convince Governments that such measures will generate illicit trade. This is yet another tactic of deceit aimed at preserving tobacco business. The industry is not part of the solution as it pretends. It is part of the problem.

I look forward to a productive discussion and to hear your questions, your concerns, your examples and best practices in combatting illicit tobacco trade.

The Convention Secretariat stands ready to support your efforts in joining and implementing the Protocol.

I wish you a successful meeting.

Thank you very much.