Historic Tobacco Treaty Becomes International Law; U.S. Left on the Sidelines Because of Failure to Ratify

Statement of Judith P. Wilkenfeld Director of International Programs, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Feb. 24 2005

Washington, DC — The world will witness public health history on February 27 when the global tobacco control treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, becomes international law. The treaty represents the strongest, most coordinated action the world’s nations have ever taken against tobacco use and its devastating health and economic consequences. Unfortunately, the United States is on the sidelines because the President has yet to submit the tobacco treaty to the Senate for ratification. We urge our government to join the growing number of countries that have ratified the treaty and support its effective implementation both here and abroad.

It is in both the United States’ interest and the world’s interest that our nation be a leader in this important initiative. It sends the wrong message to the rest of the world if the wealthiest and most powerful nation fails to lead in addressing a global epidemic that kills almost five million people every year. Unless effective action is taken, tobacco’s toll will rise to 10 million deaths a year by 2030, with 70 percent of those deaths in developing nations. This is a global catastrophe that our own government simply cannot ignore.

The United States has always been the world’s scientific leader in developing public health measures that reduce tobacco use. The tobacco treaty now enshrines as international law many of the solutions our own science has identified. It commits nations to ban all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (with an exception for nations with constitutional constraints); require large, graphic health warnings on cigarette packs; implement measures to protect non-smokers from secondhand smoke; increase the price of tobacco products; and regulate the content of tobacco products. Nonetheless, today the U.S. is no longer in the forefront. Renewed U.S. leadership is essential to advancing and implementing the science on how best to reduce tobacco use.

The U.S. also has a special obligation to provide global leadership in reducing tobacco use because we are home to Philip Morris, the world’s largest multinational tobacco company and the leading exporter of the deadly products that are the cause of the tobacco epidemic. Too often in the past, our government has sided with the tobacco companies when they challenged other nations’ tobacco control measures as violations of trade agreements. Tobacco companies are making such threats again, presenting a significant challenge to effective implementation of the tobacco treaty. U.S. ratification of the treaty would send a strong message to the rest of the world that we will not support these efforts and instead put protection of public health ahead of tobacco industry interests.

Finally, unless the U.S. ratifies the treaty, it will not have a seat at the table in determining how it is implemented and enforced and in negotiating side agreements on issues such as cigarette smuggling that are of importance to the U.S. The U.S. should join the 57 countries that have already ratified the treaty and again become in global leader in reducing tobacco use and its devastating consequences.

 

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