Celebrating ten years of the WHO FCTC Knowledge Hub on Legal Challenges hosted at the McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer

Monday 4 December, 2023

Although tobacco still kills eight million people each year, the world has seen significant progress on tobacco control in the past few decades.

The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) has driven much of this progress, with assistance from the WHO FCTC Knowledge Hubs.

December 2023 will mark ten years of the McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer serving as the WHO FCTC Knowledge Hub on Legal Challenges based on the Memorandum of Understanding it has signed with the Convention Secretariat, to help Parties to the WHO FCTC respond to the tobacco industry’s attempts to delay lifesaving tobacco control measures through litigation and other legal scare tactics.

We were proud to have become the first WHO FCTC Knowledge Hub in December 2013, shortly after the McCabe Centre’s founding as the first dedicated centre on law and cancer in February 2012.

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In the ten years since, we’ve worked with more than 100 countries across all six WHO regions, either through providing legal training to implement tobacco control laws, supporting countries to defend legal challenges raised by the tobacco industry, or running dedicated workshops for specific regions, or on specific measures under the Convention like plain packaging of tobacco products.

Our Knowledge Hub website now provides information accessible to all on tobacco control and trade and investment law, as well as on legal challenges at the domestic and regional level, helping countries and tobacco control advocates to understand the potential impact of trade and investment agreements on their work and to defend against legal challenges raised by the tobacco industry.

We’ve built a respected legal research program on tobacco control, having contributed to publications such as the WHO FCTC’s official  impact assessment and the 30th anniversary of the journal Tobacco Control. The contributions to tobacco control of our Founding Director and Regional Manager for Africa were recognised with World No Tobacco Day Awards in 2017 and 2020. And we’ve become part of a growing network of WHO FCTC Knowledge Hubs, each providing support to the 183 Parties to the Convention in their respective area of expertise.

Much of our Knowledge Hub’s work was based on Australia’s experience as the first country to implement tobacco plain packaging and successfully defend it from legal challenges, and the generous support of the Australian government to share that experience with other countries.

Through a series of dedicated plain packaging workshops as well as direct technical support to Parties, we’re proud to have worked with 19 of the 23 Parties that have adopted tobacco plain packaging worldwide, as well as many others that have tobacco plain packaging laws in progress.

Beyond plain packaging, we’ve supported seven Parties to defeat the tobacco industry in court. Government lawyers from Kenya, for example, attended our training program and received follow up support from our Regional Manager for Africa to defend Kenya’s Tobacco Control Regulations against a legal challenge brought by British American Tobacco (BAT). Kenya won in the High Court, Court of Appeal, and the Supreme Court, with the Supreme Court finally dismissing BAT’s claims in their entirety. In Sri Lanka, alumni of our training programs successfully defended Sri Lanka’s graphic health warnings covering 80% of the principal display areas of tobacco packages, and allowed Sri Lanka to implement what was then one of strictest requirements for tobacco health warnings in the world.

We’re also proud to be able to work with our neighbours within our region to implement and defend laws for tobacco control. Led by our Regional Manager for the Pacific, we have convened three dedicated tobacco control workshops for the WHO Western Pacific region to help countries share experiences unique to the context of Pacific Island countries.

Our collaborations in other regions include legal and plain packaging workshops for WHO European and Eastern Mediterranean Region countries, and workshops on tobacco control, trade and investment for the WHO African Region. These workshops not only help address legal challenges and threats countries are directly facing, but also help respond to the need for more legal capacity identified by Parties in the most recent 2023 Global Progress Report on Implementation of the WHO FCTC.

As the Knowledge Hub network has grown, we’ve had many opportunities to collaborate with  other Knowledge Hubs, including with the WHO FCTC Knowledge Hub for Article 5.3 and the WHO FCTC Knowledge Hub for Waterpipe Tobacco Smoking on tobacco control workshops for the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region, and with the WHO FCTC Knowledge Hub on Tobacco Taxation on our respective trainings for lawyers and for tax policymakers, as well as on a series of ‘Back to Basics’ policy briefs outlining scare tactics by the tobacco industry. These collaborations with our fellow Knowledge Hubs, the Convention Secretariat, WHO, and other international and regional organizations have helped us work together to support Parties to realise the goal of protecting present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental, and economic effects of tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke.

We are proud to have contributed to the progress in tobacco control achieved by the Parties over the last ten years, and look forward to continuing to support Parties to the WHO FCTC through the upcoming Tenth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP10) to the WHO FCTC, to be held in February 2024, and beyond.

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