19.3 WHO FCTC guiding principles and general obligations

Last updated: May 2024

Suggested citation: Flintoff, A., Kapa, W., 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; 2024. Available from: https://www.tobaccoinaustralia.org.au/chapter-19-ftct/19-3-who-fctc-guiding-principles-and-general-obligations-

19.3.1 Guiding Principles (Article 4)

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.

19.0.1 General Obligations (Article 5)

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.

19.0.2 Protection from Tobacco Industry Interference (Article 5.3)

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’. These obligations are further outlined in the implementation guidelines to Article 5.3.1

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 and their sub-recommendations are as follows:

1. Raise awareness about the addictive and harmful nature of tobacco products and about tobacco industry interference with Parties’ tobacco control policies.

1.1  Parties should, in consideration of Article 12 of the Convention, inform and educate all branches of government and the public about the addictive and harmful nature of tobacco products, the need to protect public health policies for tobacco control from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry and the strategies and tactics used by the tobacco industry to interfere with the setting and implementation of public health policies with respect to tobacco control.

1.2  Parties should, in addition, raise awareness about the tobacco industry’s practice of using individuals, front groups and affiliated organisations to act, openly or covertly, on their behalf or to take action to further the interests of the tobacco industry.

2. Establish measures to limit interactions with the tobacco industry and ensure the transparency of those interactions that occur.

2.1  Parties should interact with the tobacco industry only when and to the extent strictly necessary to enable them to effectively regulate the tobacco industry and tobacco products.

2.2  Where interactions with the tobacco industry are necessary, Parties should ensure that such interactions are conducted transparently. Whenever possible, interactions should be conducted in public, for example through public hearings, public notice of interactions, disclosure of records of such interactions to the public.

3. Reject partnerships and non-binding or non-enforceable agreements with the tobacco industry.

3.1  Parties should not accept, support or endorse partnerships and non-binding or non-enforceable agreements as well as any voluntary arrangement with the tobacco industry or any entity or person working to further its interests.

3.2  Parties should not accept, support or endorse the tobacco industry organising, promoting, participating in, or performing, youth, public education or any initiatives that are directly or indirectly related to tobacco control.

3.3  Parties should not accept, support or endorse any voluntary code of conduct or instrument drafted by the tobacco industry that is offered as a substitute for legally enforceable tobacco control measures.

3.4  Parties should not accept, support or endorse any offer for assistance or proposed tobacco control legislation or policy drafted by or in collaboration with the tobacco industry.

4. Avoid conflicts of interest for government officials and employees.

4.1  Parties should mandate a policy on the disclosure and management of conflicts of interest that applies to all persons involved in setting and implementing public health policies with respect to tobacco control, including government officials, employees, consultants and contractors.

4.2  Parties should formulate, adopt and implement a code of conduct for public officials, prescribing the standards with which they should comply in their dealings with the tobacco industry.

4.3  Parties should not award contracts for carrying out any work related to setting and implementing public health policies with respect to tobacco control to candidates or tenderers who have conflicts of interest with established tobacco control policies.

4.4  Parties should develop clear policies that require public office holders who have or have had a role in setting and implementing public health policies with respect to tobacco control to inform their institutions about any intention to engage in an occupational activity within the tobacco industry, whether gainful or not, within a specified period of time after leaving service.

4.5  Parties should develop clear policies that require applicants for public office positions which have a role in setting and implementing public health policies with respect to tobacco control to declare any current or previous occupational activity with any tobacco industry whether gainful or not.

4.6  Parties should require government officials to declare and divest themselves of direct interests in the tobacco industry.

4.7  Government institutions and their bodies should not have any financial interest in the tobacco industry, unless they are responsible for managing a Party’s ownership interest in a State-owned tobacco industry.

4.8  Parties should not allow any person employed by the tobacco industry or any entity working to further its interests to be a member of any government body, committee or advisory group that sets or implements tobacco control or public health policy.

4.9  Parties should not nominate any person employed by the tobacco industry or any entity working to further its interests to serve on delegations to meetings of the Conference of the Parties, its subsidiary bodies or any other bodies established pursuant to decisions of the Conference of the Parties.

4.10  Parties should not allow any official or employee of government or of any semi/quasi-governmental body to accept payments, gifts or services, monetary or in-kind, from the tobacco industry.

4.11  Taking into account national law and constitutional principles, Parties should have effective measures to prohibit contributions from the tobacco industry or any entity working to further its interests to political parties, candidates or campaigns, or to require full disclosure of such contributions.

5. Require that information provided by the tobacco industry be transparent and accurate.

5.1  Parties should introduce and apply measures to ensure that all operations and activities of the tobacco industry are transparent.

5.2  Parties should require the tobacco industry and those working to further its interests to periodically submit information on tobacco production, manufacture, market share, marketing expenditures, revenues and any other activity, including lobbying, philanthropy, political contributions and all other activities not prohibited or not yet prohibited under Article 13 of the Convention.

5.3  Parties should require rules for the disclosure or registration of the tobacco industry entities, affiliated organisations and individuals acting on their behalf, including lobbyists.

5.4  Parties should impose mandatory penalties on the tobacco industry in case of the provision of false or misleading information in accordance with national law.

5.5  Parties should adopt and implement effective legislative, executive, administrative and other measures to ensure public access, in accordance with Article 12(c) of the Convention, to a wide range of information on tobacco industry activities as relevant to the objectives of the Convention, such as in a public repository.

6. Denormalize 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”.

6.1  Parties should ensure that all branches of government and the public are informed and made aware of the true purpose and scope of activities described as socially responsible performed by the tobacco industry.

6.2  Parties should not endorse, support, form partnerships with or participate in activities of the tobacco industry described as socially responsible.

6.3  Parties should not allow public disclosure by the tobacco industry or any other person acting on its behalf of activities described as socially responsible or of the expenditures made for these activities, except when legally required to report on such expenditures, such as in an annual report.

6.4  Parties should not allow acceptance by any branch of government or the public sector of political, social, financial, educational, community or other contributions from the tobacco industry or from those working to further its interests, except for compensations due to legal settlements or mandated by law or legally binding and enforceable agreements.

7. Do not give preferential treatment to the tobacco industry.

7.1  Parties should not grant incentives, privileges or benefits to the tobacco industry to establish or run their businesses.

7.2  Parties that do not have a State-owned tobacco industry should not invest in the tobacco industry and related ventures. Parties with a State-owned tobacco industry should ensure that any investment in the tobacco industry does not prevent them from fully implementing the WHO FCTC.

7.3  Parties should not provide any preferential tax exemption to the tobacco industry.

8. Treat State-owned tobacco industry in the same way as any other tobacco industry.

8.1  Parties should ensure that State-owned tobacco industry is treated in the same way as any other member of the tobacco industry in respect of setting and implementing tobacco control policy.

8.2  Parties should ensure that the setting and implementing of tobacco control policy are separated from overseeing or managing tobacco industry.

8.3  Parties should ensure that representatives of State-owned tobacco industry do not form part of delegations to any meetings of the Conference of the Parties, its subsidiary bodies or any other bodies established pursuant to decisions of the Conference of the Parties.

The WHO FCTC has also established a Knowledge Hub on Article 5.3, hosted jointly by Thammasat University and Mahidol University . The Knowledge Hub maintains a variety of resources including details of different countries’ policies and practices in implementing Article 5.3. For more information on these policies and practices see: https://extranet.who.int/fctcapps/fctcapps/fctc/kh/TIInterference/policies-and-practices

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 industry2 and the Australian Government has developed Guidance for Public Officials on Interacting with the Tobacco Industry that provides guidance on obligations under Article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC.3 For information on donations made by the tobacco industry to registered political parties, please see Chapter 10, In Depth 10A.7.3.

References

1. Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Guidelines for Implementation of Article 5.3: Protection of Public Health Policies with Respect to Tobacco Control from Commercial and Other Vested Interests.  January 2013. Available from: https://fctc.who.int/publications/m/item/guidelines-for-implementation-of-article-5.3.

2. Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care. Report on Interactions between Health and the Tobacco Industry. Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health, 11 October 2019. Available from: https://www.health.gov.au/resources/publications/report-on-interactions-between-health-and-the-tobacco-industry.

3. Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care. Guidance for Public Officials on Interacting with the Tobacco Industry. Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health, 1 November  2019. Available from: https://www.health.gov.au/sites/default/files/2023-05/guidance-for-public-officials-on-interacting-with-the-tobacco-industry.pdf.