Myers Testimony Before the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Public Hearing on the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Sep. 20 2002

Nashville, TN — My name is Matthew Myers and I am President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. I would like to thank the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for holding this public hearing and hope that this hearing will be the turning point in the U.S. government's approach to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

The Campaign was created in 1996 to prevent and reduce the problems caused by tobacco use, particularly among children, by raising awareness that tobacco use is a serious public health problem and a pediatric disease; by working to achieve public policies that promote a reduction in tobacco use; by altering the environment in which tobacco use and tobacco policy decisions are made; and by actively countering the tobacco industry and its special interests.

As we all know, even as tobacco use remains a serious problem in the United States, the tobacco industry is aggressively targeting developing countries to find new customers for its deadly products. Multinational tobacco companies, particularly U.S.-based Philip Morris, have exploited the liberalization of trade and the globalization of marketing to enter new markets, and then exported their sophisticated lobbying and public relations operations to thwart tobacco control initiatives in those countries. The results have been catastrophic. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are currently 1.1 billion smokers in the world today, a number expected to rise to 1.64 billion by the year 2025. About 4 million people die each year from tobacco use. And, if current trends continue, this figure will rise to about 10 million per year by the early 2030s, with 70 percent of those deaths occurring in developing countries. Based on current smoking trends, tobacco will soon become the leading cause of death worldwide, causing more deaths than HIV, maternal mortality, automobile accidents, homicide and suicide combined.

The tobacco industry claims it does not want kids to smoke, but its actions tell a very different story. Almost 90 percent of all regular smokers begin at or before age 18, and hardly anybody tries their first cigarette outside of childhood.i In other words, if large numbers of kids did not start smoking, become regular users, and turn into addicted adult smokers, the cigarette companies would eventually not have enough adult customers to stay in business. The fact is the tobacco industry is addicted to underage smoking.

Recent surveys bear this out. Just last month, a new report revealed that 14 percent of 13-15 year old students around the world currently smoke cigarettes. In addition, the report found that nearly 25 percent of students who smoke tried their first cigarette by the age of 10 and that most young smokers want to quit. The report, the Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS), produced by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA), and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) also shows that exposure to secondhand smoke was extremely high in all countries. Nearly half the students surveyed reported that they were exposed to second hand smoke from others in their home. Overall, 60 percent of students were exposed to second hand smoke in public areas.

The increasing number of young smokers and the devastating death toll from tobacco need not happen if governments muster the political will to prevent this avoidable tragedy. The negotiations on the FCTC provide a historic opportunity to adopt strong, aggressive measures needed to address the global tobacco epidemic. If a strong Framework Convention is negotiated, it will be a very important step in tobacco control, both globally and within individual countries.

On the other hand, a poorly drafted or weak FCTC will be used by the tobacco industry to argue against stronger domestic legislation in the United States and around the world. Therefore it is important that the FCTC promote strong minimum standards that cannot be misconstrued as maximum or "ideal" standards. Obligations within the Convention should not be framed in such a way that they could become barriers to the enactment or implementation of more effective tobacco control measures.

I would like to take a few minutes to express some concerns that we have with the positions that the U.S. has taken on some key areas of the FCTC.

During the past 4 negotiating sessions, the U.S. Delegation has supported provisions that would subordinate legitimate and important measures enacted for public health concerns to trade considerations despite the position of our allies and major trading partners, and in spite of the very real world consequences.

The FCTC is a treaty that is designed to promote and improve the public health of the nations who are a party to it. These goals of the Treaty and the efforts of the US or any other nation that engages in legitimate efforts to protect its citizens from the ravages of tobacco should not be subject to attack because of trade agreements.

This is an issue on which the US has a particular obligation. The US has in the past shamelessly used the threat of trade sanctions to open up markets to U.S. cigarette companies. The tobacco industry has a long history of using trade agreements as a tool to thwart tobacco control policies designed to protect public health. Philip Morris, for example, has threatened to challenge Canada's proposed ban on misleading terms such as "light" and "mild" as a violation of the North American Free Trade Agreement and an international agreement on patents and trademarks. It would be a tragedy if the U.S. continued to refuse to support language in the treaty that would put the health of the world's people ahead of the narrow interests of Philip Morris and other tobacco companies.

At the past four rounds of negotiations, the majority of countries have supported provisions that would protect the rights of nations to enact 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 U.S. government has chosen instead to stand with the tobacco industry in opposition to such common sense provisions. It also opposed measures that would prevent signatory countries from promoting tobacco use in other countries or from interfering or undermining tobacco control laws in other countries, provisions that are consistent with current U.S. law. The U.S. should support a FCTC that insures that nations that enact measures to protect the public health of their citizens are not thwarted by arguments that these provisions in some way interfere with international trade agreements. In addition to this testimony I would like to submit for your consideration a paper on trade issues and the Chair's text that we have prepared in conjunction with Action on Smoking and Health in London.

During past negotiations, the U.S. has supported provisions that would allow the tobacco industry to keep deceiving consumers through the use of misleading descriptors such as "light" and mild."

Even though the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI) has determined that terms such as "light" and "low-tar" are misleading and that they have misled smokers into believing that such cigarettes are less harmful, the U.S. has NOT supported a ban on these terms in past negotiations. NCI's monograph also concluded that these deceptive terms constitute an "urgent public health issue," The U.S. still doesn't get it. The U.S. position should consider the science over the wishes of the tobacco industry and support an outright ban on the use of misleading descriptors such as 'low-tar' and 'light' and 'mild'.

During past negotiations the U.S. has opposed provisions that would allow a ban on advertising in nations whose constitutions allow one.

The impact of tobacco marketing on youth tobacco use remains a serious problem. In the US the tobacco industry has actually increased the amount it spends marketing its products in the last four years, much of it in ways that are especially effective with children. Elsewhere in the world the problem is even worse. The evidence is strong that the most effective way to eliminate the influence of tobacco marketing on young people is through comprehensive restrictions. Many nations support the inclusion in the treaty of a provision banning all direct and indirect tobacco advertising, reserving to those countries with Constitutional limitations the right to enact lesser restrictions. As eight U.S. Senators put it in a letter to the President in March, "While there are U.S. Constitutional issues involving advertising bans, the U.S. should not prevent other nations form adopting advertising bans in keeping with their own legal systems when the U.S. Surgeon General has concluded that such limits have been shown to reduce tobacco consumption, especially among youth." We simply cannot understand why the U.S. would oppose aspirational language in the treaty calling for the elimination of tobacco advertising when this would have no practical effect on the United States. Why is the United States standing in the way?

Smuggling

The FCTC should reverse the perverse incentives that tobacco companies and wholesalers currently have to facilitate cigarette smuggling. Appropriate measures would include the development of a liability regime to hold companies responsible and the launching of investigations and legal action aimed at those orchestrating smuggling. While we are encouraged by some of the progress that was made at the International Conference on Illicit Tobacco Trade (ICITT) sponsored by the U.S. government in July, we note that the U.S. went to great lengths in the meeting to downplay the role of the tobacco industry in orchestrating large-scale smuggling, despite the fact that our allies in Canada and the European Union have launched RICO actions against the companies in U.S. courts accusing them of exactly that.

In conclusion, I am hopeful that the new Chair's text is just a starting point, and that when the delegates meet in Geneva in October to continue the negotiations, they will reassert the primacy and importance of protecting public health over the interests of the tobacco industry. We in the public health community urge the U.S. to change its harmful positions, and work in good faith with the other countries to craft a strong treaty that obligates nations to take specific actions to reduce the death and disease caused by tobacco use. U.S. leadership is vital to achieving this goal and ensuring that the treaty protects public health, not the interests of the tobacco industry. The protection and promotion of public health should be the sole basis for all of the positions of the U.S. negotiating team to the FCTC.

The FCTC provides an historic opportunity to improve the health of people all over the world. For the last one hundred years the United States has been a powerful force for improving the health of people around the world. The FCTC provides us with an opportunity to build on our record as a public health leader, but unless we change some of our positions, we must also take responsibility for the continued unnecessary premature death of millions of people who might have otherwise been helped by a strong treaty. The choice is literally yours and history will record what path you choose.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak and we look forward to working closely with you in the future.

i Preventing Tobacco Use Among Young People: A Report of The Surgeon General, 1994.

 

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