News story

UK ratifies global treaty to tackle illegal tobacco trade

The international agreement aims to significantly reduce the illicit tobacco market both in the UK and worldwide.

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The UK has ratified an international agreement aimed at significantly reducing the illicit tobacco market, both in the UK and worldwide. The UK is the 40th country to ratify the agreement bringing it into international law.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products (The Protocol) provides a blueprint for the regulation of tobacco production and distribution, as well as international cooperation between enforcement authorities.

The Protocol represents a significant move towards a new global standard in tobacco control, with international partners working together to tackle the problem.

In the last 2 financial years alone, HM Revenue and Customs and UK Border Force seized over 2.8 billion illicit cigarettes and over 660 tonnes of hand-rolling tobacco. The Protocol will build on that success by allowing closer working with our international partners to form a global comprehensive tobacco control strategy.

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, Robert Jenrick, said:

Illicit tobacco costs the UK economy £2.5 billion a year. That is why we are cracking down on this unlawful trade, which denies vital funding for our public services and can lead to health risks.

The introduction of these new global standards will build on our work to make it harder for organised criminal gangs to profit in the future.

Furthermore, this government has a duty to tackle the harm caused by tobacco use, both here in England and overseas, as tobacco use remains one of the single biggest causes of preventable disease worldwide.

The Protocol covers 3 main areas, including manufacture and distribution; law enforcement; and international cooperation.

In depositing papers of ratification the UK has taken the total number of countries that have ratified to 40, which is the trigger point for the Protocol to become international law. The Protocol will now officially come into force in 90 days, which means that all 54 parties will be bound to implement its provisions within 5 years.

Further information

The WHO FCTC is an international treaty designed to reduce tobacco-related deaths and disease. The UK ratified the FCTC in 2004 and is one of 181 parties to have done so. Article 15 obliges the parties to develop a Protocol to tackle the illicit trade in tobacco products. After 5 sessions of an Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB) set up to negotiate the Protocol, consensus was reached on the text in November 2012.

The Protocol was open for signatures at the United Nations in New York from 10 January 2013 to 9 January 2014. The UK signed on 17 December 2013.

The European Union signed the treaty on 20 December 2013 and ratified on 24 June 2014.

Most of the requirements of the Protocol have been in place in the UK for some time as part of our successful tobacco anti-fraud strategy. These include requirements for registration of tobacco factories and licensing for tobacco manufacturing machines.

The licensing of tobacco products manufacturing machinery was the final outstanding requirement in the UK. The government laid regulations before Parliament to achieve this in January 2018.

Ratification further reinforces the UK’s continuing commitment to tackling illicit tobacco and encourages other nations to ratify and implement the provisions. The UK is a target market for illicit product and widespread adoption of supply chain controls, for example, will play a significant role in reducing the supply of legitimate products onto the UK illicit market.

Fifty-two other countries’ including France, Germany, Spain, Brazil and India are parties to the Protocol. The European Union has also signed and ratified and so appear on the list of parties but their instrument does not count as one of the 40 needed to bring the Protocol into force.

Once the Protocol has entered into force, parties will convene for the first session of the Meeting of the Parties. This group has decision-making powers to promote the Protocol and ensure its effective implementation. Those parties that have ratified by 10th July will participate in that first session and will enjoy its full rights.

Under Article 9 of the Protocol, the parties agree to establish within 5 years of the Protocol entering into force, a global tracking and tracing regime for tobacco products. The UK is currently developing a track and trace system as required by the EU Tobacco Products Directive 2014, with an implementation date of May 2019.

Read the full text of the Protocol.

Published 29 June 2018