The WHO FCTC, the ﬁrst global public health treaty, was negotiated in the WHO between 1996 and 2003. It came into force in 2005. The FCTC creates obligations on Parties (countries that have ratiﬁed the treaty) to protect people from the consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke.
Australia was closely involved in the negotiation of the WHO FCTC, and has subsequently taken a leading role in the WHO FCTC’s governing body, the Conference of the Parties (COP). Since its ﬁrst session in 2006, the COP has adopted by consensus a number of Guidelines to provide more detailed guidance to parties implementing the operative paragraphs of the treaty. Australia has been actively involved in the development of these guidelines, including to help ensure they support our existing tobacco control measures and leave space for new and innovative evidence-based measures to be adopted.
The Guidelines on Article 11 on the packaging and labelling of tobacco products and on Article 13 on banning tobacco advertising and sponsorship, adopted by the FCTC COP in 2008, suggest Parties consider implementing plain packaging of tobacco products.
In 2012, Australia was the ﬁrst country in the world to implement a measure on tobacco plain packaging. Signiﬁcant consultation was undertaken in the development of the measure. Article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC, which provides an important framework for engagement with the tobacco industry to protect public health policy, shaped the nature of these consultations.
As soon as they were introduced in 2011, Australia’s plain packaging laws began to be challenged by the tobacco industry and by certain countries with relevant trade interests in Australia’s High Court, under a bilateral investment treaty, and in the World Trade Organization. The WHO FCTC and its Guidelines have been cited as evidence that plain packaging is consistent with international law, and best practice.
At the time of writing, Australia had won its cases in the High Court and under the bilateral investment treaty, and a result in the WTO disputes is expected in 2017. In the interim, plain packaging has been successfully implemented in Australia, with early evidence showing it has contributed to the continuing reduction in smoking prevalence.
Many countries now look to and engage with Australia for guidance in implementing their own tobacco control measures. The United Kingdom and France have implemented tobacco plain packaging, and several other countries are in the process of doing so.
Figure 1. An example of Australian tobacco product packaging
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