19.1 WHO FCTC Governance Framework

Last updated: November 2023

Suggested citation:  Kapa, W., Slattery, C., Zhou, S., George, A. & Liberman, J. 19.1 WHO FCTC Governance Framework. In Greenhalgh, EM, Scollo, MM and Winstanley, MH [editors]. Tobacco in Australia: Facts and issues. Melbourne: Cancer Council Victoria; 2023. Available from: https://www.tobaccoinaustralia.org.au/chapter-19-ftct/19-1-who-fctc-governance-framework


This section examines the governance framework of the WHO FCTC including a broad overview of the WHO FCTC, Conference of the Parties (COP), WHO FCTC guidelines, protocols, other decisions and institutions supporting the implementation of the Convention.

19.1.1 WHO FCTC

The foreword to the WHO FCTC describes the Convention as ‘an evidence-based treaty that reaffirms the right of all people to the highest standard of health’. The WHO FCTC was developed ‘in response to the globalization of the tobacco epidemic’, and records the determination of the parties ‘to give priority to their right to protect public health’.1

As noted in its foreword, the WHO FCTC ‘represents a paradigm shift in developing a regulatory strategy to address addictive substances; in contrast to previous drug control treaties, the WHO FCTC asserts the importance of demand reduction strategies as well as supply issues’.1

The WHO FCTC sets out obligations for parties to implement measures both to reduce the demand for tobacco products and to control the supply of tobacco products. It also provides for obligations relating to protection of the environment, criminal and civil liability, scientific and technical cooperation and communication of information, institutional arrangements and financial resources, the settlement of disputes, and further development of the treaty.

The provisions of the WHO FCTC can be broadly divided into the following categories:

  • Introduction (part I)
  • Objectives, guiding principles and general obligations (part II)
  • Demand-reduction measures (part III)
  • Supply-reduction measures (part IV)
  • Other substantive obligations (parts V and VI)
  • Provisions on scientific and technical cooperation and communication of information (part VII)
  • Institutional arrangements and financial resources, settlement of disputes, further development of the treaty and final provisions (part I, Article 2, and parts VIII – XI)

Sections 19.3 to 19.8 of this chapter provide an overview of the substantive provisions of the WHO FCTC. A full version of the WHO FCTC can be found here: http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/42811/1/9241591013.pdf?ua=1.

19.1.2 Conference of the Parties

WHO FCTC processes are governed by its Conference of the Parties (COP), the formal body through which the Parties meet and make decisions about the implementation and development of the Convention. The COP’s mandate, as outlined in Article 23 of the WHO FCTC, is to ‘keep under regular review the implementation of the Convention and take the decisions necessary to promote its effective implementation’. It met annually for its first three sessions, and has since 2008 met biennially with the exception of the 2021 session held a year later due to the COVID-19 pandemic.2

The COP’s regular sessions allow the Parties to the WHO FCTC to take significant substantive decisions, such as to adopt protocols and guidelines, as well as facilitating cooperation and mobilising financial resources and mechanisms of assistance and providing for a program of intersessional work to support the implementation and further development of the Convention. Such work includes elaborating guidelines, negotiating protocols, requesting the preparation of technical reports and recommendations and overseeing reporting and exchange of information. 

19.1.3 Guidelines

Guidelines assist parties to implement their obligations under the Convention by providing guidance based on the best available evidence, best practices, and experiences of Parties. Under Article 7 of the WHO FCTC, the COP ‘shall propose appropriate guidelines for the implementation’ of Articles 8 to 13.

As of November 2023, the COP had adopted implementation guidelines with respect to each of the following:  the protection of public health policies with respect to tobacco control from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry (Article 5.3); price and tax measures to reduce the demand for tobacco (Article 6); protection from exposure to tobacco smoke (Article 8); regulation of the contents of tobacco products and of tobacco product disclosures (Articles 9 and 10); packaging and labelling of tobacco products (Article 11); education, communication, training and public awareness (Article 12); tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (Article 13); and demand reduction measures concerning tobacco dependence and cessation (Article 14).  Articles 9 and 10 guidelines are, as of November 2023, partial guidelines. The COP has also developed policy options and recommendations on economically sustainable alternatives to tobacco growing in relation to Articles 17 and 18, and a toolkit for parties on implementation of Article 19 in relation to liability. Each set of guidelines was drafted intersessionally by a working group of Parties.    

19.1.4 Protocols

A protocol is a legally binding international agreement that supplements an existing international agreement through additional rights or obligations or cooperative arrangements. Ordinarily, only Parties to the primary agreement are eligible to become Parties to the protocol, and the protocol is only binding on those Parties to the primary agreement that decide to become Parties to the protocol. A protocol is thus a separate instrument from the primary agreement, though closely related to it.

The COP has adopted one protocol, the Protocol to eliminate illicit trade in tobacco products,3 which was adopted at COP5 in 2012,4 and entered into force on 25 September 2018.

19.1.5 Other decisions

The COP also takes a range of other decisions to fulfil its mandate to promote effective implementation of the WHO FCTC. These may include, among many other things, requesting the preparation of reports and recommendations from the Convention Secretariat or WHO or other bodies, establishing subsidiary bodies, and adopting decisions regarding its budget and workplan and facilitating international cooperation. The COP has since COP-4 adopted a ‘declaration’ at the end of each COP (with the exception of COP-8), containing a high-level statement of parties’ commitment to address the global tobacco epidemic.5-8 At COP-8, the COP adopted a Global Strategy to Accelerate Tobacco Control, which will guide its activities for the period 2019-2025.9 The COP-9 declaration addressed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and affirmed FCTC obligations that also benefit other public health priorities and global concerns.10

19.1.6 Secretariat and WHO

The COP’s work is supported by the Convention Secretariat, which is housed within the WHO’s Geneva offices and mandated under Article 24 of the WHO FCTC to perform the treaty secretariat functions specified in the Convention and determined by the COP. The Secretariat conducts the following areas of work — serving governing and subsidiary bodies including the COP and COP Bureau; supporting the development of protocols and guidelines; assessing progress and sharing knowledge; assisting Parties in implementing specific provisions of the Convention; promoting international cooperation; and raising awareness and mobilizing resources.11 The Secretariat cooperates with the WHO Secretariat and other UN agencies, and participates as part of the United Nations Interagency Task Force on NCDs, to carry out the work program mandated by the COP.12


1. World Health Organization. WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Geneva: World Health Organization, 2003. Available from: https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/42811/9241591013.pdf?sequence=1.

2. WHO FCTC Secretariat. Conference of the Parties. Geneva: WHO FCTC Secretariat, Last update: 13 November 2021; Viewed 7 November 2022. Available from: https://fctc.who.int/who-fctc/governance/conference-of-the-parties.

3. Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products. Geneva: WHO, 2012. Available from: http://apps.who.int/gb/fctc/PDF/cop5/FCTC_COP5(1)-en.pdf.

4. Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Decision FCTC/COP5(1)—Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products Decisions of the Fifth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, FCTC/COP/5/DIV/. Seoul, Republic of Korea, 12 November 2012. Available from: http://apps.who.int/gb/fctc/PDF/cop5/FCTC_COP5(1)-en.pdf.

5. Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Decision FCTC/COP4(5)—Punta Del Este Declaration.  6 December 2010. Available from: http://apps.who.int/gb/fctc/PDF/cop4/FCTC_COP4_DIV6-en.pdf.

6. Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Decision FCTC/COP5(5)—Seoul Declaration.  17 November 2012. Available from: http://apps.who.int/gb/fctc/PDF/cop5/FCTC_COP5(5)-en.pdf.

7. Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Decision FCTC COP6(26)—Moscow Declaration.  18 October 2014. Available from: http://apps.who.int/gb/fctc/PDF/cop6/FCTC_COP6(26)-en.pdf.

8. Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Decision FCTC/COP7(29)—Delhi Declaration.  12 November 2016. Available from: https://fctc.who.int/publications/m/item/fctc-cop7(29)-delhi-declaration.

9. Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Global Strategy to Accelerate Tobacco Control: Advancing Sustainable Development through the Implementation of the WHO FCTC 2019–2025, FCTC/COP/8/11, 9 May 2018. Available from: https://fctc.who.int/publications/m/item/fctc-cop-8-11-measures-to-strengthen-the-implementation-of-the-convention-through-coordination-and-cooperation.

10. Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Decision FCTC COP9(10)— Declaration on WHO FCTC and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.  12 November 2021. Available from: https://untobaccocontrol.org/downloads/cop9/decisions/FCTC_COP9_10_EN.pdf.

11. WHO FCTC Secretariat. What does the Convention Secretariat do?  Last update: 2016; Viewed 8 December 2016. Available from: http://www.who.int/fctc/secretariat/en/.

12. WHO FCTC Secretariat. United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on NCDs (UNIATF). Geneva: WHO FCTC Secretariat, Last update: 21 September 2022; Viewed 5 December 2022. Available from: https://fctc.who.int/international-cooperation/united-nations-interagency-task-force-on-ncds