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Leading U.S. Public Health Groups Tell U.S. Delegation to Tobacco Treaty Negotiations: Go Home

February 26, 2003

Geneva, Switzerland — The American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids today called on the United States government to withdraw from the negotiations on the proposed international tobacco treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), rather than continue to undermine the efforts of the rest of the world to adopt a strong treaty. The final round of treaty negotiations is currently taking place in Geneva under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO), with a goal of finishing by February 28. The U.S. delegation has stepped up efforts to water down nearly every provision of the treaty and sought to block other nations' attempts to strengthen the treaty.

'The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is a historic opportunity for the world's nations to address a global tobacco epidemic that is projected to kill 500 million people alive today,' said Matthew L. Myers, president, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. 'Since the United States has not supported a strong, effective treaty, its negotiators should pack their bags and go home. Instead of supporting provisions in the treaty that would protect public health and save lives, the U.S. delegation has chosen to stand in the way. They have played the role of obstructionist, suggesting weakening amendments and ineffective proposals and strong-arming other delegations to support them. Rather than protecting public health, they have continuously chosen to protect the tobacco industry.'

'The U.S. government has demeaned the value of one of the greatest documents in world history, the United States Constitution, by using it to defend its opposition to a ban on tobacco advertising,' said Dr. Alfred Munzer, past president and spokesman for the American Lung Association at the negotiations. 'The U.S. government has squandered an opportunity to lead the efforts to develop a strong Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. It has instead chosen to be the handmaiden of the tobacco industry and to use its power to sabotage and to weaken the treaty. The most honorable thing the U.S. can do now to ensure a strong Framework Convention is to be forthright and honest in its opposition to an effective convention and to tell its delegation to go home.'

'At this crucial juncture, the United States government is working methodically to weaken virtually every aspect of this treaty,' said Dr. John Seffrin, Chief Executive Officer, American Cancer Society. 'This is unconscionable. We call on the U.S. government to observe the first rule of the Hippocratic Oath: Do No Harm. The time has come for the U.S. to stand aside and allow the rest of the world to complete a treaty strong enough to change the course of the tobacco epidemic.'

'The United States has been a world leader in tobacco prevention efforts within its own borders, especially for kids. It is disgraceful that we are now leading efforts to prevent other countries from doing the same,' said M. Cass Wheeler, CEO of the American Heart Association.

As home to Philip Morris, the world's largest tobacco company, the U.S. has a special obligation to provide leadership in negotiating a strong treaty that can reduce the alarming rates of death and disease caused by tobacco use. Public health groups had hoped that, with the deadline for completing the treaty approaching, the U.S. would change course and take a leadership role in protecting public health. Unfortunately, the U.S. has remained a primary obstacle to a strong treaty. The time has come for the U.S. to get out of the way and let other nations get on with the important work of negotiating a treaty that can stop the tobacco industry's assault on the developing world.

During the negotiations, the U.S. delegation has introduced proposals that would not only weaken the treaty but retard the process of compromise among delegates who are seeking to craft a strong public health treaty. They include:

  • Advertising: The U.S. delegation has continued to fight inclusion of a treaty provision calling for a ban on tobacco advertising to the extent permitted by each nation's constitution. There is strong scientific evidence that the most effective way to eliminate the influence of tobacco marketing on young people is through a comprehensive advertising ban.

  • Health vs. Trade: The majority of countries have supported a provision to protect tobacco control measures from trade challenges, while the United States has 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 international trade rules normally apply. This issue is critical since the tobacco industry has a long history of using trade law as a tool to thwart tobacco control policies, including several times with the support of the U.S. government in the 1980s and 1990s. Recently, Philip Morris has threatened to challenge Canada's proposed ban on misleading terms such as 'light' and 'mild' as a violation of the North American Free Trade Agreement and an international agreement on patents and trademarks.

  • Secondhand Smoke: The U.S. delegation introduced a proposal that is a smokescreen, obligating parties to neither adopt strong measures nor take any action on secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke kills. Given that there is no safe level of exposure, protection must be obligatory and not voluntary.

The World Health Organization estimates that there are 1.1 billion smokers in the world today, a number expected to rise to 1.64 billion by the year 2025. About four million people die each year from tobacco use. If current trends continue, this figure will reach about 10 million per year by the early 2030s, with 70 percent of those deaths occurring in developing countries.