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ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has missed out on securing a position in international decision making under the umbrella of the UN regarding international tobacco trade which has been secured by India.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has officially announced that the conditions for entry into force of the first legally binding instrument adopted under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) were met, paving the way for eliminating illicit trade in tobacco products.

Only the first 40 signatories of the required protocol would have been able to influence the decision. The Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) did make efforts to ratify the required protocol at the earliest but could not.

“Some two months ago, we wrote a letter to the Foreign Office saying that 35 countries have already ratified the protocol and that we should ratify it at the earliest. However, we did not get any response. We had made all the arrangements but the NHS ministry was not able to ratify it by its own. On the other hand, India has ratified the protocol and is one of the first 40 countries to do so,” technical head of the Ministry of NHS Tobacco Control Cell Dr Ziauddin told Dawn.

A WHO official says that whenever efforts are made for decreasing tobacco use by increasing prices, across the globe, the tobacco industry starts a campaign saying the prices should not be increased as that will lead to an increase in illicit trade or the smuggling of cigarettes. He said it was therefore decided that a new convention will be introduced under the UN’s umbrella to eradicate smuggling and the tobacco industry’s excuse.

“The protocol titled Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products will allow countries to track smuggled cigarettes and know where they were manufactured and how they reached the country. Forty countries have now signed the protocol so it will be activated in 90 days. Pakistan can sign the protocol anytime but it will not be able to get full benefits and take part in decision making,” he said.

Dr Ziauddin said it was unfortunate that Pakistan was not one of the first 40 countries to have ratified the protocol even though the Tobacco Control Cell had completed all the arrangements.

“We also wrote to the provinces, telling them to play their role and waited for a reply from the Foreign Office,” he said.

According to a WHO statement, issued on Thursday from Geneva, Secretary Ministry of Health and Family Welfare India, Preeti Sudan commended her government for its efforts in ensuring the new protocol was enforced.

“By joining the protocol, our [provincial] governments are sending a clear joint message that the illicit tobacco market will be targeted under the framework of international cooperation by cost-effective measures that will protect our children and socio-disadvantaged populations from being exposed to low cost and easily available tobacco products,” she is quoted as saying.

The statement says that with ratification by the UK and the necessary number of parties, the protocol will enter into force in 90 days.

It says this is a milestone in the history of tobacco control as the protocol contains a full range of measures to combat illicit trade distributed into three categories- preventing illicit trade, promoting law enforcement and providing legal basis for international cooperation.

It says the initiative aims to secure the supply chain of tobacco products through licensing, due diligence and record keeping and requires the establishment of a global tracking system that will allow governments to follow up on tobacco products from the point of production to the first point of sale.

In order for it to be effective, the protocol provides for intensive international cooperation including in information sharing, technical and law enforcement, legal and administrative assistance and extradition.

WHO Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus congratulated the new parties to the protocol for their commitment to public health.

Head of the WHO FCTC Secretariat Dr Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva said: “With the entering into force of the protocol, we have made yet another step in our global efforts in tobacco control. To tackle illicit trade is to tackle accessibility and affordability of tobacco products, to be more effective on the control of the packaging and to reduce funding of transnational criminal activities whilst protecting the governmental revenues from tobacco taxation.”

Published in Dawn, June 29th, 2018