Jul. 16 2002
Washington, DC — The new Chair's draft text issued today for the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the proposed international tobacco treaty, is disappointingly weak. The Framework Convention provides a historic opportunity to adopt strong, aggressive measures needed to address a tobacco epidemic that kills more than four million people a year worldwide and will kill 10 million by 2020. The Chair's text falls woefully short of what is needed. The text reflects the approach advocated by a small minority of countries, including the United States, that does so little that it protects tobacco industry interests rather than the approach advocated by the large majority of countries that protects the public health. The text calls for weak, slowly phased-in, highly qualified changes and allows the tobacco industry to continue to challenge any measure it doesn't like as violation of international trade agreements. This is a roadmap for business as usual for the tobacco industry.
The proposed text is especially troubling when it comes to addressing the critical issue of resolving conflicts between tobacco control measures and international trade agreements. The tobacco industry has a long history of using trade agreements as a tool to thwart tobacco control policies designed to protect the public health. Philip Morris, for example, is threatening to challenge Canada's proposed ban on terms such as "light" and "mild" as a violation of the North American Free Trade Agreement and an international agreement on patents and trademarks. The Framework Convention should protect the rights of nations to enact proven tobacco control measures by explicitly stating that public health measures enacted in accordance with the treaty are to take priority when they conflict with trade rules. The majority of countries have advocated this position at the first four rounds of negotiations on the treaty, with the United States in the minority. Unfortunately, the Chair's text would essentially adopt the status quo, putting the tobacco industry's commercial interests ahead of protecting the public health.
Other weak provisions include:
Advertising. The text vaguely calls for "gradually eliminating" the advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products and "phasing out" of sport sponsorship and cross-border advertising and requires only that each country act "in accordance with its capabilities." Many countries have advocated a stronger provision calling on countries to ban tobacco advertising and sponsorship with a reservation for those countries with constitutional constraints.
Misleading descriptors such as "light" and "low tar." The draft text does not explicitly ban these misleading terms, but rather places the burden of proof on nations to show that these terms are used in a way that creates a false impression that a product is less harmful. This provision would allow tobacco industry challenges to bans on such terms.
Secondhand smoke. The text includes a vague provision calling for "adequate protection" from exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke in public places rather than the ban on such exposure needed to protect the public from this proven carcinogen.
The Chair's text should serve only as a starting point. When the Delegates of the world meet in Geneva in October to continue negotiations, they will have the opportunity to reassert the primacy and importance of protecting public health over the tobacco industry's interests. Whether the United States takes a leadership role in protecting the public health rather than protecting the interests of the tobacco industry will be a litmus test of its commitment to reducing the death toll from tobacco.
The Chair's text can be found at: http://www.who.int/gb/fctc/PDF/inb5/einb52.pdf