Malawi ratifies WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control

Malawi, the leading tobacco-producing country in Africa, has just ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). It was one of the last countries in the world not to have ratified it.

August 18, 2023 will remain a historic date for Malawi. It marks the country’s ratification of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and its announced commitment to tobacco control. Malawi thus joins the 183 parties – 182 countries plus the European Union – to have ratified the FCTC. This ratification was welcomed by Léonce Dieudonné SESSOU, Executive Secretary of the African Tobacco Control Alliance (ATCA).

The first international health treaty, the FCTC brings together a body of measures designed to reduce – and ultimately eliminate – tobacco use. These measures range from those aimed at reducing demand for tobacco (taxation, advertising, packaging/labelling, product composition, public awareness) to those aimed at reducing supply (prohibition of sales to and by minors, combating illicit trade, economically viable alternative activities, industry liability). The FCTC also contains provisions on environmental protection and incentives for scientific and technical cooperation. The WHO’s regularly updated 2021 report on tobacco control measures the progress made thanks to the treaty’s implementation.

For several decades, Malawi has been heavily involved in tobacco growing, to the point where it has become its main source of foreign currency and exported products. However, the expected income for the country has not lived up to expectations, and tobacco growing is proving both harmful to the health of tobacco workers (« green tobacco disease ») and deleterious to the environment, while occupying a large proportion of land that cannot be devoted to food crops or more lucrative crops.

Malawi’s involvement in tobacco growing makes it highly vulnerable to the demands of the tobacco industry. In particular, the latter can slow down or block the implementation of measures to protect the population from tobacco products (smoke-free areas, taxation, health warnings, etc.). On April 21, 2021, Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera marked a turning point in his country’s history by announcing that he would phase out tobacco growing. Ratification of the FCTC would represent another decisive step for Malawi in its commitment to protecting the population from tobacco use. However, a number of health players are questioning the country’s late ratification of the treaty, and point to a possible manoeuvre by the tobacco industry to infiltrate or even indirectly « undermine » the treaty’s implementation process. The positions defended by the country at the next session of the Conference of the Parties to the treaty in Panama in November will provide some answers.

David Makani


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