International agreements tackle tobacco smuggling and premature deaths

In collaboration with the Press Association

Two new international agreements are aiming to tackle the illegal tobacco trade and sharply reduce the number of people dying prematurely as a result of non-infectious diseases such as heart disease, cancer and strokes.

The first of the new international treaties - signed on November 12 - sets out rules on contraband tobacco to help nations get a firmer control of the supply chain via increased international cooperation.

Signatories committed to establishing a global tracking and tracing system. Non-removable tracking codes will be printed on each pack of cigarettes to make it easier for customs authorities to trace producers and distributors tobacco products as well as identifying counterfeit cigarettes.

Jean King, Cancer Research UK's director of tobacco control, said the charity applauded the 176 nations who signed the new protocol on smuggling.

She said the availability of cheap illicit tobacco undermined the financial incentives for smokers to quit, especially those in low-income households, and undercut public health initiatives to reduce the death and disease caused by smoking.

One in 10 cigarettes purchased around the world comes through illegal channels, costing governments more than £25 billion annually in lost taxes, the WHO estimates.

As well as intensifying the fight against illicit tobacco, the international community has also signed its first comprehensive agreement on tackling non-communicable diseases (NCDs) - medical conditions that are non-infectious and non-transmissible, such as heart disease, stroke and many cancers.

UN member states agreed a comprehensive Global Monitoring Framework for the prevention and control of NCDs at a three-day World Health Organisation meeting earlier this month in Geneva, Switzerland.

They commitment to reducing premature deaths from NCDs by 25 per cent by 2025 through a series of voluntary global targets.

On a national level, the targets focus on improving the availability of essential medicines and technologies as well as counselling and drug therapy for prevention of heart attack and stroke.

The new targets also address the major risk factors such as tobacco, physical inactivity, obesity, alcohol, salt and raised blood pressure, the Union for International Cancer Control said.

Cancer Research UK's Jean King welcomed the ambitious target.

She added: "We particularly support targets to accelerate implementation of the global tobacco treaty, measures to prevent and control cervical cancer, and to provide palliative care.

"Cancer Research UK would have liked to see more ambitious targets on obesity and alcohol, inclusion of basic anti-cancer drugs and measures to prevent conflicts between public health and commercial interests.

"But we recognise that this is an important first step in confronting the growing burden of NCDs especially in low income countries."

Copyright Press Association 2012