WHO delays ITP research into duty free tobacco

By Luke Barras-hill |


The first Meeting of the Parties (MOP1) to the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products took place this week in Geneva, Switzerland.

The industry has reacted positively to a World Health Organization (WHO) decision that postpones an evidence-based research study ‘into the extent to which duty free contributes to the illicit trade of tobacco products’.

As reported, the WHO Illicit Trade Protocol (ITP) entered into force last month.

At the first WHO Meeting of the Parties to the Protocol (MOP1) held this week in Geneva (8-10 October) that have ratified the ITP to date, 48 countries agreed that the organisation should produce a roadmap in two years (November 2020) on the duty free question.

The WHO Secretariat had earlier proposed that research should commence immediately in line with Article 13.2 of the ITP, which requires research to be undertaken within five years of the protocol entering force.

Frank O'Connell New

Frank O’Connell, President, Duty Free World Council: “The decision is to be welcomed by the duty free industry worldwide.”


A statement issued this morning (12 October) from the Duty Free World Council (DFWC) commended the decision as ‘in line with its policy and approach and that of the other regional duty free associations’.

DFWC President Frank O’Connell said: “This decision is to be welcomed by the duty free industry worldwide. The purpose of this protocol is to tackle the illicit trade in tobacco products.

“By postponing the research, the countries that have ratified the ITP have agreed that duty free is not a priority for them because it is not a source of illicit trade.

“Over the coming years, the implementation of the Illicit Trade Protocol will bring changes to how tobacco is distributed across the globe. We are confident that will show how tightly controlled our duty free industry actually is.”


Adding his comments, ETRC Secretary General Keith Spinks told TRBusiness: “We’re pleased with the result, but it’s not over and we want our teams to keep working to make sure our business is not targeted.”

DF&TR has again launched a robust response to the ITP, part of the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which it believes takes as its starting point the notion that duty free contributes to illicit trade in tobacco.

As many observers in the industry will note, DF&TR it is well acquainted with the threat to tobacco given previous challenges over the years, which have been successfully repelled.


Keith Spinks, Secretary General, ETRC.

Indeed, the DFWC points out that it has been working with governments and customs authorities around the world over the past year to reinforce the message that the industry is one of the most tightly controlled globally.

Earlier this year, the ETRC told TRBusiness that the number one objective would be a delay to the study on the basis that all the mandated elements of the protocol – including a global track and trace system (implemented within five years of the Protocol’s entry into force) – should be in place before any study on duty free tobacco is carried out.

The measures covered by the ITP include comprehensive licensing, record keeping and ‘regulation of internet sales, duty free sales and international transit’.

“If the provisions mandated by the protocol are put in place within the five-year timescale for track and trace we believe that when they do undertake the research study we will be able to clearly show that duty free is not a source of illicit trade,” Spinks said previously.

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