The report of the WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health demonstrates the renewed salience of health inequalities within the international health policy agenda. The tobacco pandemic is characterized by an escalating burden of death and disease that is increasingly being borne by developing countries. Efforts to promote global health equity must therefore prioritize reductions in tobacco consumption. The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) offers a remarkable opportunity to address the health inequalities associated with tobacco use, and represents an important innovation within global governance. But the FCTC's failure to adequately address the health impacts of trade liberalization highlights the difficulties of ensuring policy coherence across international health, development and economic policies. Recognition of such limitations is important both to inform the further development of the FCTC and to ensure that appropriate lessons are drawn for future initiatives.