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New Draft Text for International Tobacco Treaty Bows to U.S. by Protecting Tobacco Industry Instead of Public Health

Statement of Judith Wilkenfeld, Director of International Programs Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids
January 16, 2003

Washington, D.C. — The latest draft text of the proposed international tobacco control treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), released today is a disappointing step backwards that does not reflect the positions supported by the vast majority of nations during the last negotiating session in October. Instead, it reflects the much weaker positions taken by the United States and the tobacco industry, led by Philip Morris. This draft of the treaty does more to protect business as usual for Big Tobacco than it does to save lives and improve health around the world. It appears that the U.S. is acting behind closed doors to undermine the will of the vast majority of nations. Sadly, all the world's children will pay the price.

The critical final round of treaty negotiations is scheduled for Feb. 17-28 in Geneva, Switzerland. If the treaty text is not significantly strengthened at that time, the world's nations will have missed an unprecedented opportunity to address a global health epidemic that already kills more than four million people every year, and the United States will bear much of the blame. It is unconscionable that the latest treaty text bows to the wishes of the United States and other nations that are home to large tobacco manufacturers at the expense of developing nations that are the latest targets of the tobacco industry. The United States should reverse course and act to protect the public health rather than the tobacco industry. At the very least, if the United States does not want to support a strong treaty, it should not stand in the way of other nations' efforts to protect the health of their citizens. The many nations that have fought for a strong treaty should continue their efforts and refuse to accept a treaty that does not give them the tools they need to protect public health. The current draft treaty gives the tobacco industry a green light to continue their assault on the developing world.

Rather than obligating nations to take strong actions to protect the public health, the new draft of the treaty merely suggests weak steps that they could take. It is especially weak on the following key issues:

Advertising: Despite strong support from a large majority of nations for a total ban on tobacco advertising to the extent permitted by each nation's constitution, the treaty fails to call for an ad ban. Instead the watered down treaty calls on governments to impose gradual restrictions on tobacco advertising but requires nothing. The United States has led efforts against the ad ban provision, supported by a majority of the nations during the most recent public negotiating session. The new draft also deletes a previous provision supported by most countries 'phasing out' sponsorship of sporting events by the tobacco companies, which is an important means of reaching children and other key audiences for the tobacco industry.

Misleading descriptors such as 'light' and 'low tar': Public health experts from around the world have urged that the treaty prohibit the terms 'light' and 'low tar'. The U.S. has not supported a ban on these terms despite the conclusions of a November 2001 report by the National Cancer Institute that the use of such terms is 'deceptive', has misled consumers into believing such cigarettes are less harmful, and constitute 'an urgent public health issue.' The draft text does not explicitly ban these misleading terms, but rather places the burden of proof on nations to show that these terms are used in a way that creates a false impression that a product is less harmful. The tobacco industry has consistently shown that it will use every means to challenge bans on such terms.

Warning labels: The draft treaty's provisions on warning labels are weak and less specific than are needed to reduce cigarette consumption.

Secondhand smoke: The draft treaty lacks any meaningful provisions on secondhand smoke that would obligate countries to protect the public health from exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke in public places.

Trade: The majority of countries have supported a provision to protect tobacco control measures from trade challenges, while the United States had led the fight against such a provision. The treaty should recognize that the lethal nature of tobacco products requires that they be treated differently from the beneficial products to which the international trade rules normally apply.

The Chair's text can be found at:

Fewer than five percent of the world's smokers live in the U.S. Worldwide, more than four million people die each year from tobacco use. If current trends continue, tobacco will kill 10 million people a year by 2020; 70 percent of those deaths will occur in developing countries.