WHO Illicit Trade Protocol

We have always publicly supported the development of a World Health Organization (WHO) Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products.

The first session of the Meeting of the Parties (MOP1) to the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products took place in Geneva from 8 to 10 October 2018.  The protocol entered into force on 25 September 2018 and 46 parties to the protocol participated fully in MOP1 (those becoming parties after 10 July 2018 could participate as observers).

The protocol  is a treaty under international law adopted at the fifth Conference of the Parties (COP5) in 2012 that expands on the obligations contained in Article 15 of the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). It aims to provide a global framework of measures for countries – known as ‘parties’ – to adopt in order to eliminate the illicit trade in tobacco products.

The protocol’s scope is broad and includes a combination of binding obligations and policy recommendations that cover supply chain controls, international cooperation and offence definition. National governments have significant discretion regarding the interpretation and implementation of the protocol’s provisions.

British American Tobacco supports the protocol’s overall objectives. We believe the legal tobacco industry should work with policymakers and specialists in trade and law enforcement to ensure that implementation of the protocol is based on robust evidence and expertise that will deliver its intended outcomes.

We are transparent about our views regarding the key issues discussed at MOP1, and actively and openly engage on issues impacting our business.  Below is a summary of our views on the key issues discussed at MOP1.

Summary of key issues addressed at MOP1

The topics of discussion at MOP1 included organisational and institutional matters, constitutive instruments, reporting, implementation assistance and international cooperation. The provisional agenda can be found here .


The protocol includes obligations on parties to make provisions for the licensing of manufacturers, importers and exporters of tobacco products and manufacturing equipment. It also invites parties to consider the potential applicability of a licensing regime for other participants in the tobacco supply chain. We believe a robust licensing system can play an important role in establishing the integrity of the tobacco supply chain, yet the licensing system should be simple, transparent, predictable and affordable, and should not pose an unnecessary obstacle to legal trade.

Tracking and tracing

The protocol requires the parties to establish a global regime to track and trace the movement of tobacco products. Parties’ track and trace systems must apply unique, secure markings on all cigarette packs within five years of the protocol’s ratification. For other tobacco products, such as fine cut tobacco, this requirement must be implemented within ten years. Through this system, certain manufacturing and distribution information is to be recorded and made available. 

We believe a global tracking and tracing regime can be an effective tool to help law enforcement agencies counter cross-border smuggling and other illegal activities. Tracking and tracing should be based on international standards and systems should be interoperable, which means that international co-operation is essential. We also believe tracking and tracing should be required for all tobacco products.

Free Trade Zones

The protocol requires parties to apply controls on the manufacturing and sale of tobacco products within Free Trade Zones (FTZs), applying verification measures and ensuring that tobacco products are not mixed with other products when transported. We believe that governments should implement or strengthen controls over tobacco production and sales in FTZs and follow the guidance provided by the World Customs Organisation  and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development .

Duty-free sales

Parties are required to apply protocol measures to duty-free sales of tobacco products. The protocol also requires that an evidence-based study on duty-free sales and illicit trade should be conducted by no later than 2023. We believe that any study should be carried out only when the protocol has been fully implemented in order to allow its measures to take effect. We agree that the protocol measures that will be applied to domestic sales should also apply to duty-free sales: this would enable a clear differentiation between genuine duty-free products and illicit products that are intentionally mislabelled as ‘duty-free’. We believe that restricting or banning the legitimate sale of duty-free retail sales of tobacco would unfairly affect legal businesses and be ineffective in solving illicit trade.