WHO calls for action against illicit tobacco trade on World No Tobacco Day

News release

WHO poster on World No Tobacco Day 2015

The theme of this year's World No Tobacco Day on 31 May is illicit trade of tobacco products. This trade, which accounts for an estimated one in every 10 tobacco products consumed, poses major health, economic and security concerns around the world.

"Illicit cigarettes are cheaper and thus more widely accessible to a younger population leading to a rise in youth smoking rates. In addition, chronic and more addicted smokers are also more likely to engage in tax avoidance and evasion. This fuels the tobacco epidemic and undermines tobacco control policies," says WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, Dr Shin Young-soo.

In the Western Pacific Region, the extent of illicit trade of tobacco varies widely. Estimates range from 40% in some countries to 5% or less in others. Through tax evasion, smuggling, illegal manufacturing and counterfeiting, illicit tobacco products are available at significantly lower prices. Cheap tobacco encourages smoking among young people (who generally have lower incomes) and cuts government revenues. It reduces available funds for socioeconomic development, especially in low-income countries that depend heavily on consumption taxes.

On the occasion of World No Tobacco Day, the World Health Organization (WHO) in the Western Pacific urges partners to disseminate information on the illicit trade of tobacco and advocate the ratification and implementation of the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products.

The protocol is an international treaty that aims to eliminate all forms of illicit trade in tobacco products. It requires a wide range of measures that secure the tobacco supply chain, including licensing of imports, exports and manufacturing, establish a tracking and tracing system and promote international cooperation. To become international law, 40 countries need to ratify the protocol. So far, only eight have ratified with only one from the Western Pacific Region – Mongolia.

While publicly supporting efforts to curb illicit trade, evidence shows the tobacco industry's involvement in fostering illicit trade in many economies. Internal tobacco industry documents show that smuggling has been part of the industry's strategy to promote their brands, increase market share or open closed markets. The industry also works to hinder implementation of other tobacco control policies, such as tax increases and pictorial health warnings, by arguing that these will fuel the illicit trade problem. No direct correlation exists between high taxes and illicit trade. In fact, overall smuggling levels are many times higher in countries with lower tobacco prices and tax rates.

Eliminating illicit trade is a win-win solution. It reduces tobacco consumption and, in so doing, saves health expenditures by preventing premature deaths. These savings can be invested to promote and protect people's health.

Editor’s note

Tobacco-related illness is one of the biggest public health threats the world has faced. One person dies every minute from a tobacco-linked disease in the WHO Western Pacific Region.

The WHO Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) entered into force in 2005. Parties are obliged over time to take a number of steps to reduce demand and supply for tobacco products including: protecting people from exposure to tobacco smoke; counteracting illicit trade; banning advertising, promotion and sponsorship; banning sales to minors; putting large health warnings on packages; increasing tobacco taxes; and creating a national coordinating mechanism for tobacco control. There are 180 parties to the convention, including all the countries in the Western Pacific Region.

For more information, contact:

Public Information Office
WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific
Telephone: +632 528 9993
Email: pio@wpro.who.int