New Protocol adopted to reduce illicit tobacco trade

A new Protocol to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control will help eliminate the growing illicit tobacco trade in Egypt and other countries.

November 2012

Nearly half of all adult Egyptian men smoke cigarettes, according to a government survey. Equally disturbing, tobacco use among teenage girls is now three times higher than it is among adult women. While the rate is still low, Egypt’s traditional stigmatization of women smoking may be fading.

Government action to reduce smoking threatened by illicit cigarettes

Smoking tobacco increases the risk of heart disease, cancer and chronic lung disease. The Government of Egypt has recently taken firm action to try to reduce the number of smokers. Some of these bold steps now appear to be in danger. One problem is the dramatic rise in cigarettes entering the country illicitly.

Egypt was among the first countries to sign the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the world’s first public health treaty. In 2007, the government adopted legislation requiring:

  • graphic pictures on all tobacco packs
  • a ban on cigarette marketing and advertisements
  • a ban on tobacco use in all public places except restaurants and bars
  • a tax increase on tobacco products.

The new tax rate raised the price of a pack of cigarettes by nearly 60%.

But shortly after the tax increase, black-market cigarettes started to come into Egypt.

“These illicit cigarettes come with no graphic pictures, no warnings, no taxes,” says Dr Mostapho Loutfy, National Programme Officer in Egypt for WHO’s Tobacco Free Initiative. “You can buy these cigarettes everywhere and can buy three packs for the price of one legal package.”

Protocol to eliminate growing illicit tobacco trade

Egypt is by no means the only country to confront a growing illicit tobacco trade. In fact, earlier in 2012 the 135 Parties to the Convention met for the final session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body to conclude the negotiations on the first Protocol to the Framework Convention, the Protocol to eliminate illicit trade of tobacco products.

This protocol was adopted by the 5th Conference of the Parties in Seoul, Republic of Korea.

“The Protocol sets the rules for combating illicit trade in tobacco products through control of the supply chain, says Dr Haik Nikogosian, Head of the Secretariat to the Framework Convention. “It also establishes what constitutes unlawful conduct and sets out measures related to enforcement and international cooperation.”

A hand holding a flower over an ashtray instead of a cigarette.
WHO/Jim Holmes

Under the Protocol, the Parties will establish a global tracking and tracing system for tobacco products and will agree on other measures such as licensing, liability, enforcement, information sharing and mutual legal assistance to counteract and eventually eliminate illicit trade in tobacco products.

Complete ban on advertising in Egypt

For now, countries like Egypt will use already agreed upon Framework Convention tools to reduce smoking, such as a complete ban on advertising.

In 2007, the government banned tobacco advertising and showing people smoking on TV and in movies. However enforcement of these bans is still lacking.

“These forms of entertainment have great influence on young people,” says Randa Abou El- Naga, the WHO Country Office Technical Expert.

In an attempt to reach young people, WHO and the Ministry of Health are now working with the onscreen entertainment community to reduce smoking in movies and television shows.