Russia Ratifies Tobacco Treaty; U.S. Still on the Sidelines

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

Apr. 14 2008

WASHINGTON – The Russian Duma, the nation’s lower House of Parliament, today has ratified the international tobacco control treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). This is an important step for Russia toward reducing tobacco use and potentially saving millions of lives in one of the world’s heaviest-smoking nations.

This is good news for Russia’s health, but it once again demonstrates that the United States’ failure to ratify the treaty leaves it increasingly isolated in the global fight against tobacco use, which the World Health Organization has found is the leading preventable cause of death in the world.

With the addition of Russia, 154 nations have now ratified the tobacco control treaty, but the United States is not one them. The United States and Indonesia, which are both large manufacturers and consumers of tobacco products, remain the two most populous nations that have not ratified the treaty.

Russia’s ratification underscores the strong global momentum to ratify and implement the treaty. However, Russian ratification is only the first step in its effort to reduce tobacco use. For the treaty to have an impact it is critical that Russia immediately begin to rigorously implement the scientifically proven measures to reduce tobacco use called for by the treaty, including:

  • Ban tobacco advertising, promotions and sponsorships and misleading cigarette descriptions such as “light” and “low-tar”;
  • Require large, graphic health warnings on tobacco products;
  • Enact smoke-free air laws that apply to all workplaces and public places;
  • Raise the price of tobacco products by significantly increasing tobacco taxes;
  • Fund and implement effective tobacco prevention and cessation programs to prevent children from starting to smoke and help smokers quit.

Russia’s participation will also allow its leaders to take part in a global solution to curb cigarette smuggling and other illicit trade, a major problem that is robbing governments of billions of dollars in tax revenues and undermining strong tobacco-control policies. Nations are currently negotiating a treaty to combat the illicit trade in tobacco products.

The United States cannot participate in these negotiations until it has ratified the treaty. Russia is a major exporter of cheap cigarettes, with its domestic production from multinational tobacco giants outstripping even Russia’s heavy consumer demand by some 100 billion cigarettes a year.

Tobacco use has contributed greatly to Russia’s demographic crisis. Although Russia’s population of 143 million is roughly half that of the United States, Russian tobacco use kills almost as many people—some 400,000 per year—as it does in the U.S.

More than 60 percent of Russian men and up to 30 percent of Russian women smoke, making Russia’s adult smoking rate roughly double that of the United States, where about 20.8 percent of adults smoke. According to Euromonitor International, Russia ranks fourth worldwide in annual per-capita consumption, with some 2,665 cigarettes smoked, behind only Serbia and Montenegro, Greece and Bulgaria.

By effectively implementing the tobacco treaty, Russia can begin to reduce tobacco’s devastating health and financial toll on the nation.

The measure will become law after endorsement by the Federation Council, the nation’s upper House of Parliament, and the President’s signature, both considered formalities. The Russian government approved entry into the WHO FCTC on Jan. 10 and forwarded the treaty to the Duma for ratification.

Russian ratification also sends a clear message to the United States. It is an abdication of global health leadership that the United States continues to sit on the sidelines in the fight against the world’s number one killer. Surely if other major tobacco producing and consuming nations, including Russia, China, India and Japan, can overcome the influence of the tobacco industry to ratify the treaty, the U.S. can as well.

We urge President Bush to submit the treaty to the Senate for ratification, and we call on the Senate to ratify it. By ratifying the treaty and supporting its effective implementation domestically and internationally, the U.S. can again become a leader in reducing tobacco use and protecting public health around the world.

It sends the wrong message if the world’s wealthiest and most powerful nation fails to lead in addressing a global epidemic that will kill 5.4 million people this year. Unless urgent action is taken, one billion people will die from tobacco use in this century, the vast majority in the developing world. This is a global catastrophe that the U.S. government simply cannot ignore.

 

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