Andorra is a microstate located in the Pyrenees mountain range between Spain and France. Andorra is also the newest party to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). It is a major win for public health to have a tobacco-producing country join the FCTC.  We welcome this development as a positive sign for global health governance.


Andorra’s Relationship with Tobacco

Tobacco smoking rates in Andorra are higher than peer (very high) human development index countries among all demographic groups. Tobacco use kills 100 Andorrans each year, or one in every seven deaths. Andorra’s record on tobacco control policy is poor. Smoking is allowed in restaurants and bars, no graphic warning labels are on the country’s cigarette packs, and few practical limits on tobacco marketing are in place. Additionally, Andorra’s cigarette prices are much lower than its larger European neighbors, making it a hub of tax avoidance through duty-free purchases, tax evasion, and illicit trade.

Tobacco trade has long been part of Andorra’s history.  Ninety years ago, geographer Roderick Peattie observed, “Tobacco is the most distinctive crop of Andorra. It had its start when smuggling was a recognized profession… the amount of tobacco grown in Andorra is far in excess of national needs. I have no confidence that this tobacco pays duties when it is exported” (p. 227). Through the end of the 20th century, tobacco farming kept growing, “eating up everything” in terms of available acreage for planting. In the 1990s, tobacco companies also saw opportunity in Andorra as an export market for duty-free cigarettes. Exports of British cigarettes to Andorra increased more than 100-fold from 1993 to 1997, reaching such high volumes that if every Andorran (including young children) was actually consuming imported British cigarettes, they would need to smoke 60 sticks per person per day. These cigarettes were being exported for duty-free purchases, a form of legal tax avoidance.

Even today, tobacco is referred to by the US Central Intelligence Agency as Andorra’s “most distinctive crop” and tobacco products are listed among the country’s top export products. A recent study found that Spanish smokers living near Andorra were more likely to cross national borders to purchase their cigarettes than smokers living in other parts of Spain. The price differential in a pack of the most-sold brand of cigarettes explains this behavior: a pack costs 3.6 euros in Andorra, compared with 5 euros in Spain and 8 euros in France.

Why does Andorra Joining the FCTC Matter?

Bringing Andorra into the fold of global health governance efforts will allow civil society and intergovernmental organizations to engage with the country more vigorously on collective problems.

Joining the FCTC is not the same thing as implementing the treaty. In other words, the government must take steps to implement the FCTC’s provisions. But, this first step bodes well for those wishing to address systemic issues around tobacco use in Andorra and the effects of Andorra’s tobacco control policies on its neighbors.  As Andorra takes steps to enact the FCTC’s best practice policies, there should be impacts favorable to public health on tobacco-related disease and death both within and outside its borders.

By Alex Liber

Cover Photo Source: Fran Ontanaya, 2007; via Flickr