Explainers

What is FCTC COP? (part 2)

Conference of the Parties (COP)

The regular sessions of the COP are held every 2 years, in person and extend over approximately one week. Past COP sessions are listed at: https://fctc.who.int/who-fctc/governance/conference-of-the-parties

For the first time ever and due to the COVID-19 pandemic, COP9 (the ninth session) will be a virtual meeting held from 8 – 13 November 2021. The session was originally scheduled to take place in 2020.

All decisions, guidelines, or recommendations related to the FCTC are taken at COP. The Parties negotiate and reach consensus to adopt those decisions.

The exception to this is if the COP decides to negotiate a Protocol to the FCTC, for which the COP would mandate a formal Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB). This is part of the process of the FCTC itself, and which the Illicit Trade Protocol followed.

COP is attended by Parties through their representative government delegations. Government delegations are usually from the executive branch of government which usually has powers to negotiate multi-laterally for governments.

All Parties may attend and speak during any of the COP sessions, and each Party officially has voting rights, although voting is very rare and most COP decisions have been taken by consensus.

A country that is not an FCTC Party, but is a member of the WHO, may attend COP as a “State Non-Party,” and be allowed to make interventions (speak) after the Parties do so.

Accredited intergovernmental organisations (IGO) and non-governmental organizations (NGO) may also attend COP as observers. Observers at COP are able to attend the plenary sessions and to speak only once the Parties and State Non-Parties have spoken, but they do not have voting rights. At the time of writing no consumer group representing smokers or ex smokers had ever been granted observer status for FCTC COP.

Given the strict interpretation given by the COP to Article 5.3 of the treaty, the Parties have recently decided by consensus to exclude manufacturers and business associations with ties with the industry to observe COP sessions from the public gallery. This decision has been taken at the start of each COP since COP5, although the first closure of the public gallery was during the third INB of the Protocol on Illicit Trade.

Consensus decisions made at a COP can:

  • Endorse recommendations in reports submitted by WHO or FCTC Secretariat e.g. “INVITES Parties to consider applying regulatory measures such as those referred to in document FCTC/COP/7/11 to prohibit or restrict the manufacture, importation, distribution, presentation, sale and use of ENDS/ENND”COP7 (9) Decision ENDS
  • Include statements of principle – e.g. “Recognizing heated tobacco products are tobacco products and are therefore subject to the provisions of the WHO FCTC”COP8 (22) Decision HTPs.
  • Include specific policy recommendations – e.g. “INVITES Parties to consider prohibiting or regulating ENDS/ENNDS, including as tobacco products, medicinal products, consumer products, or other categories, as appropriate, taking into account a high level of protection for human health”COP6 (9) Decision ENDS.
  • Mandate the WHO, FCTC Secretariat, Working Groups to prepare reports, recommendations, guidelines for consideration at future COPs – e.g. “REQUESTS the Convention Secretariat to invite WHO and, as appropriate, the WHO Tobacco Laboratory Network (TobLabNet): (a) to prepare a comprehensive report, with scientists and experts, independent from the tobacco industry, and competent national authorities, to be submitted to the Ninth session of the COP on research and evidence on novel and emerging tobacco products, in particular heated tobacco products […]” –  COP8 (22) Decision.
  • Adopt proposed Protocols:“1. ADOPTS in accordance with Article 33 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control the attached Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products”COP5 (1) Decision.
  • Adopt proposed Guidelines: e.g. “ADOPTS the guidelines for implementation of Article 6 of the WHO FCTC contained in the Annex to this decision”COP6 (5) Decision.

For a discussion of COP decisions relating to tobacco harm reduction see here.

So far not a single discussion about tobacco harm reduction has taken place at COP, largely because no government has raised it and the COP Secretariat has not put it on the agenda. In the past only the WHO TobReg documents have favourably discussed harm reduction but neither the Parties nor the COP Secretariat, who prepare the reports for COP, have put them on the agenda.

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