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Campaign Urges Bush Administration to Play More Constructive Role As Negotiations Resume on International Tobacco Treaty

4th Round of Negotiations to Begin March 18 in Geneva
March 14, 2002

Washington, DC — As negotiations resume next week in Geneva, Switzerland, on the proposed international tobacco treaty, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids today called on the Bush Administration and its negotiators to play a more constructive role than in previous rounds and take positions that protect the public health rather than the tobacco industry. The fourth round of negotiations on the proposed Framework Convention on Tobacco Control will take place March 18-23 under the auspices of the World Health Organization.

'During the last two rounds of negotiations, the United States was at the forefront of weakening the treaty,' said Judith P. Wilkenfeld, the Campaign's Director of International Programs. 'The U.S. has continually tried to water down critical provisions on tobacco advertising, consumer protection, and trade, while most other countries took strong positions. The U.S. positions would facilitate the tobacco industry's assault on the developing world, rather than empowering countries to protect the health of their citizens.'

The Campaign called on the U.S. to reverse course and take a stronger position on international tobacco issues, just as it appears to have done in more aggressively pursuing the Department of Justice lawsuit against the tobacco industry. After initially seeking to defund and then to prematurely settle the lawsuit, the Justice Department recently sent a document to the tobacco industry proposing remedies that are stronger than those the Administration has been willing to accept as part of the Framework Convention. For example, one of the proposed remedies would ban the use of labels such as 'light,' 'low-tar' and 'mild' that imply reduced health risks. The U.S. has opposed a ban on these and other terms as part of the Framework Convention.

'If the remedies proposed by the Justice Department truly reflect what the Administration believes must be done to protect the public health from tobacco, then it should advocate these positions internationally as well as domestically,' Wilkenfeld said. 'The hope for a strong tobacco treaty rests on whether the U.S. reverses course and acts as a leader in protecting public health, not as chief defender of tobacco industry interests.'

In addition to the ban on misleading labels such as 'light' and 'low-tar,' the U.S. has also taken weak positions on other key issues:

Trade and Public Health: Most nations have urged that the Framework Convention include a provision recognizing that when principles of free trade and public health conflict, public health concerns should take priority. The U.S. is one only a few nations that have opposed this position. This principle was recognized by the World Trade Organization in its recently concluded agreement on patents of pharmaceuticals, which placed a priority on developing nation's access to affordable AIDS drugs. The U.S. proposed language would allow trade principles to trump public health concerns (U.S.-proposed language: 'The parties agree that tobacco control measures shall be transparent, non-discriminatory and implemented in accordance with their international obligations.')

Advertising: While many nations support a total ban on tobacco advertising and promotions, the United States has opposed such a ban. The U.S. cited constitutional concerns, but even opposed a compromise that would allow each nation to ban or restrict advertising 'in conformity with its national Constitution.' This issue is critical to many nations because television advertisements, magazines and promotional materials with tobacco product logos easily cross national boundaries.

The U.S. has also taken a weaker position than most countries in calling for increased tobacco taxes as a means to reduce tobacco use, especially by children.

Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, killing more than 400,000 Americans every year. Worldwide, about four million people die each year from tobacco-related disease, with this figure to rise to about 10 million per year by 2030, with 70 percent of those deaths occurring in developing countries.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is participating in the negotiation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control as a non-governmental observer. The World Health Organization is seeking to complete the Framework Convention in 2003.

Judith Wilkenfeld can be reached in Geneva on March 17 at 202-413-2488 (U.S. mobile).