19.3 WHO FCTC guiding principles and general obligations

Last updated: September 2020  

Suggested citation: Slattery, C., Zhou, S., George, A. & Liberman, J. 19.3 WHO FCTC guiding principles and general obligations. In Greenhalgh, EM, Scollo, MM and Winstanley, MH [editors]. Tobacco in Australia: Facts and issues. Melbourne: Cancer Council Victoria; 2020. Available from: https://www.tobaccoinaustralia.org.au/chapter-19-ftct/19-3-who-fctc-guiding-principles-and-general-obligations-

Article 4 of the WHO FCTC sets out a number of guiding principles that should inform the measures adopted by Parties to implement the provisions of the Convention. These include:

  • that every person should be informed of ‘the health consequences, addictive nature and mortal threat posed by tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke’
  • that strong political commitment is necessary to develop and support comprehensive multisectoral measures and co-ordinated responses
  • that international cooperation is a particularly important part of the Convention
  • that the participation of civil society is essential in achieving the objectives of the Convention.

General obligations to be fulfilled by each Party to the WHO FCTC are listed in Article 5. These include the implementation and maintenance of comprehensive multisectoral national tobacco control strategies, plans and programs, and the establishment or reinforcement and financing of a national co-ordinating mechanism or focal points for tobacco control. Article 5 also requires Parties to cooperate with each other in the formulation of proposed measures, procedures and guidelines for the implementation of the Convention, and in raising financial resources for its implementation, and to cooperate with competent international and regional intergovernmental organisations and other bodies to achieve the objectives of the Convention.

Importantly, under Article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC, Parties must, in setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, ‘act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law’.

The guidelines for implementation of Article 5.3 contain four guiding principles, eight core recommended activities with specific sub-recommendations, and additional recommendations on enforcement, monitoring and international cooperation.

The four guiding principles provide:

  1. There is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and public health policy interests.
  2. Parties, when dealing with the tobacco industry or those working to further its interests, should be accountable and transparent.
  3. Parties should require the tobacco industry and those working to further its interests to operate and act in a manner that is accountable and transparent.
  4. Because their products are lethal, the tobacco industry should not be granted incentives to establish or run their businesses.

The eight core recommended activities are:

  1. Raise awareness about the addictive and harmful nature of tobacco products and about tobacco industry interference with Parties’ tobacco control policies.
  2. Establish measures to limit interactions with the tobacco industry and ensure the transparency of those interactions that occur.
  3. Reject partnerships and non-binding or non-enforceable agreements with the tobacco industry.
  4. Avoid conflicts of interest for government officials and employees.
  5. Require that information provided by the tobacco industry be transparent and accurate.
  6. Denormalise and, to the extent possible, regulate activities described as ‘socially responsible’ by the tobacco industry, including but not limited to activities described as ‘corporate social responsibility’.
  7. Do not give preferential treatment to the tobacco industry.
  8. Treat State-owned tobacco industry in the same way as any other tobacco industry.

Consistent with its obligations under Article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC, the Australian Government Department of Health maintains a public record of meetings held with the tobacco industry1 and the Australian Government developed a Guidance Note for Public Officials on Interacting with the Tobacco Industry that provides guidance on obligations under Article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC.2 For information on donations made by the tobacco industry to registered political parties, please see InDepth 10A.7.3.



1. Australian Department of Health. Report on Interactions Between Health and the Tobacco Industry.  Available from: http://www.health.gov.au/resources/publications/report-on-interactions-between-health-and-the-tobacco-industry.

2. Australian Department of Health. Guidance for Public Officials on Interacting with the Tobacco Industry.  Available from: http://www.health.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/2019/11/guidance-for-public-officials-on-interacting-with-the-tobacco-industry_1.pdf.