May. 15 2003
Washington, D.C. — Next week, at the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, the world's nations are scheduled to adopt the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, an historic treaty to address the global tobacco epidemic. The United States faces a clear choice: Our government can join the vast majority of nations in acting to improve health and save lives around the world, or it can join with a small minority and continue to protect the interests of the tobacco industry. As organizations committed to reducing the terrible toll of tobacco in the United States and around the world, we urge our government to sign the strong treaty that has been negotiated. But if our government chooses not to, it should step aside and let other nations get on with the important work of protecting the health of their citizens.
The most destructive course would be for the U.S. government to persist with its efforts to reopen the negotiations and seriously undermine the treaty. Further negotiations would only delay adoption and implementation of the treaty, costing lives around the world. That's why so many countries have rejected the U.S. effort to reopen negotiations. The United States should accept the fact that this treaty has been debated, negotiated, and agreed to by the vast majority of nations from every region.
The treaty will have its greatest impact in empowering developing nations – where the tobacco industry believes its economic future lies – to resist the industry's powerful political influence and enact scientifically proven measures to reduce tobacco use, improve health and save lives. As they have done in industrialized nations, multinational tobacco companies such as Philip Morris are seeking to penetrate the new markets of the developing world with seductive advertising and deceptions about the health risks of smoking. If nations properly implement the treaty, they can stop these harmful industry practices. The treaty commits nations to banning all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (with an exception for nations with constitutional constraints). It also commits them to requiring large 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.
The importance of the global market to Big Tobacco is clear. While profits for Philip Morris USA have stagnated in the past decade, Philip Morris International has more than doubled its revenue and profits and expects another 10 percent increase in earnings this year. The World Health Organization (WHO), which sponsored the tobacco treaty negotiations, calls the developing world and women around the world the industry's biggest potential growth markets.
The toll of the tobacco industry's assault on the world is also clear. The WHO 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. The WHO estimates that tobacco use killed about 4.9 million people worldwide last year. If current trends continue, this figure will more than double by the early 2030s, with about 70 percent of those deaths occurring in developing nations.
On March 1, 171 member nations of the WHO concluded four years of negotiations and reached agreement on a strong treaty text, overriding repeated U.S. attempts to weaken the treaty. Nations are scheduled to adopt the treaty at the World Health Assembly, which begins May 19. The United States last month launched a last-ditch effort to reopen the negotiations and serious undermine the treaty by allowing nations to opt out of any of its substantive provisions. Many nations have taken positions against reopening the negotiations. The U.S. government has not indicated what position it will take at the World Health Assembly.