May. 11 2004
Washington, DC — Late Monday, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson signed the international tobacco treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, on behalf of the United States. While we welcome U.S. signing of the treaty as a first step, it is even more important that the Administration submit the treaty to the U.S. Senate and work vigorously for its ratification. Signing the treaty without committing to its ratification would be little more than a public relations gesture because signing alone does not commit the U.S. to take any action domestically or internationally that would actually reduce tobacco use and save lives.
The treaty will enter into force and become international law after 40 countries have ratified it. To date, there have been 109 signatories to the treaty (including the European Community) and 12 countries have ratified it. While the World Health Organization has set a deadline of June 29 for nations to sign the treaty, signing the treaty by itself is largely a symbolic act. Ratification is a far more important step because only ratification by a sufficient number of countries can bring the treaty into force and only ratification can obligate nations to implement its provisions.
Ratification and implementation of the treaty are critical to turning the tide of the global tobacco epidemic. Tobacco use already kills more than four million people worldwide every year. If current trends continue, it will kill 10 million a year within two decades, with 70 percent of those deaths in developing nations. These nations have been the primary targets of the tobacco companies as smoking rates have slowly declined in more developed nations.
The treaty gives nations powerful new tools to protect the health of their citizens from the tobacco industry’s deceptions and slick marketing. It requires ratifying 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 large health warning labels that cover at least 30 percent of cigarette packs. The treaty also provides nations with a roadmap for enacting strong, science-based policies in other areas, including secondhand smoke protections, tobacco taxation, tobacco product regulation and measures to combat cigarette smuggling.
Although the policies endorsed by the treaty reflect the best recommendations of the United States’ own scientific experts and studies, the U.S. government consistently fought to weaken almost every provision of the treaty during negotiations and supported positions consistent with those of the tobacco industry. Delegates to the negotiations reported that the U.S. threatened to withhold monetary and technical assistance to international tobacco control efforts if its positions were not adopted. Fortunately, developing nations that are on the front lines of the tobacco epidemic stood up to these efforts, and a strong treaty was negotiated and adopted. While the U.S. last May joined other nations in unanimously agreeing to send the treaty out for ratification, it did so only after its last-ditch effort to reopen negotiations failed.
By ratifying the treaty, and supporting its effective implementation domestically and internationally, the U.S. can again become a leader in protecting public health around the world.