Apr. 30 2003
Washington, D.C. — Just weeks before the world's nations are to adopt the recently negotiated international tobacco treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the United States has launched a last-ditch effort to gut the treaty to the sole benefit of the tobacco industry. The U.S. this week sent a diplomatic note to other nations asking for their support to reopen the negotiations and make changes that would render the treaty largely meaningless. The U.S. proposal is a poison pill that would undermine four years of hard work that concluded on March 1, when 171 member nations of the World Health Organization (WHO) reached agreement on a strong treaty.
Every issue the United States is raising has already been thoroughly debated, negotiated and settled, and the final treaty is supported by the vast majority of countries from every region. In fact, the final treaty goes to great lengths to address U.S. concerns. For example, a provision calling on nations to enact comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotions and sponsorships includes an exception for countries with constitutional constraints. The objections the U.S. continues to raise are not valid concerns but excuses aimed at blowing up the treaty. If the negotiations are reopened to address the U.S. objections, it would open the floodgates for other countries to seek changes as well, returning the negotiating process to square one and delaying or destroying this unprecedented worldwide effort to address the global tobacco epidemic.
The treaty is scheduled to be adopted at the World Health Assembly, the annual meeting of WHO member nations that begins May 19 in Geneva, Switzerland. If the U.S. is unwilling to sign the treaty in its current form, then it should step aside and allow other countries to adopt this strong treaty that can help protect the health of their citizens. A strong treaty without a U.S. signature is better than a toothless treaty with a U.S. signature.
The specific change the U.S. is seeking would allow any nation to choose to opt out of any of the treaty's substantive provisions. This change would only benefit the tobacco industry. It would allow the tobacco industry to renegotiate the treaty on a country-by-country basis and lobby each nation to ignore treaty provisions the industry does not like. In its current form, the treaty would empower nations, especially developing nations targeted by the tobacco industry, to resist the industry's powerful political influence and enact scientifically proven measures to reduce tobacco use, improve health and save lives.
If widely adopted and effectively implemented by countries, the treaty could mark a fundamental turning point in reducing the terrible toll in health, lives and money that tobacco use takes around the world. It is strongest in requiring nations to adopt two policies proven to reduce smoking and save lives: a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (with an exception for nations with constitutional constraints), and a requirement for large health warning labels covering at least 30 percent of the principal display areas of the cigarette pack. The treaty also provides nations with a roadmap for enacting strong, science-based policies in other areas such as secondhand smoke protections, tobacco taxation, tobacco product regulation, combating cigarette smuggling, public education, and tobacco cessation treatment.
View the U.S. diplomatic note
The World Health Organization estimates that there are 1.1 billion smokers in the world today, a number expected to rise to 1.64 billion by the year 2025. About four million people die each year from tobacco use. If current trends continue, this figure will reach about 10 million per year by 2020, with 70 percent of those deaths occurring in developing countries.