Tobacco Treaty Negotiations Stall As… | Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
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Tobacco Treaty Negotiations Stall As U.S. Continues Efforts to Weaken Key Provisions

Statement of Judith P. Wilkenfeld Director, International Programs Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
March 25, 2002

Washington, DC — We are disappointed that the United States continued to lead efforts to weaken the proposed international tobacco treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, during weeklong negotiations that concluded on Saturday. While a large majority of nations, especially those from the developing world, supported strong tobacco control measures, a small, but powerful number of countries that are home to cigarette manufacturers, including the United States, Germany and Japan, continued to seek to weaken the treaty. With the possible exception of cigarette smuggling, the continued attempt by the United States to water down the treaty was one reason why so little progress was made during these negotiations and why the goal of completing a treaty by May 2003 may be at risk. We need a strong and enforceable treaty that obligates nations to take specific actions to reduce the death and disease caused by tobacco use around the world. U.S. leadership is vital to achieving this goal and ensuring that the treaty protects public health, not the interests of the tobacco industry.

While the United States took a less confrontation tone that it has at previous negotiations, it did not change its harmful opposition to key provisions that would put health before trade, ban tobacco advertising when allowed by national constitutions, and prohibit misleading terms such as 'light' and 'low-tar' that imply one cigarette product is safer than another.

The issue of trade vs. health has emerged as perhaps the central issue of the negotiations. The tobacco industry has a long history of using trade law as a tool to thwart tobacco control policies. For example, Philip Morris has threatened to challenge Canada's proposed ban on terms such as 'light' and 'mild' as a violation of the North American Free Trade Agreement and an international agreement on patents and trademarks. If the Framework Convention does not explicitly state that its public health provisions are to take priority when they conflict with trade rules, it will allow the tobacco industry to seek to overturn other provisions of the Convention, as well as tobacco control measures enacted by nations, as trade violations. The United States recently joined other nations in recognizing the primary of health over trade by agreeing to a health exception to international patent rules so that developing nations could have access to affordable AIDS drugs. Surely the same approach should be taken in the case of tobacco, which already kills more than four million people worldwide, with that number projected to increase to 10 million by 2030.

The one constructive position taken by the United States during these negotiations was its plan to host a conference on cigarette smuggling at UN headquarters in New York City from July 30 to August 31, 2002. International cigarette smuggling is a serious problem that undermines domestic tobacco control policies such as price increases and advertising restrictions, contributes to organized crime and deprives governments of much-needed revenue. The goal of this U.S.-led conference should be to reach agreement on strong, detailed and enforceable measures that nations would be obligated to take to combat smuggling. These provisions could then be included in the Framework Convention and in a protocol, or more detailed side agreement. We are concerned, however, that the United States has yet to spell out the specific measures it supports and that the conference not become a substitute for effective action.