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Nations Rise to Global Tobacco Challenge by Adopting Historic Treaty

Statement of American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
May 22, 2003

Washington, D.C. — The world's nations today have risen to the challenge posed by the escalating global death toll from tobacco use by adopting a strong global response, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. If properly implemented by individual nations, this tobacco treaty will represent an historic turning point in the fight against tobacco use and save millions of lives around the world. Tobacco use already kills about five million people a year worldwide. If current trends continue, the World Health Organization projects the number of tobacco-caused deaths will double within two decades, with 70 percent occurring in developing nations. The growing death toll from tobacco use is horrible and unacceptable, yet for far too long it has seemed inevitable and unchallenged. With adoption of the tobacco treaty, nations have finally taken coordinated action to turn the tide of this epidemic.

The tobacco treaty is especially important to developing nations that the multinational tobacco companies have targeted as their most promising growth markets. It gives nations powerful new tools to protect the health of their citizens from the tobacco industry's deceptions and slick advertising. The treaty commits nations to banning all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (with an exception for nations with constitutional constraints). It also commits them to requiring large warning labels covering at least 30 percent of the principal display areas of the cigarette pack. The treaty also provides nations with a roadmap for enacting strong, science-based policies in other areas such as secondhand smoke protections, tobacco taxation, tobacco product regulation, combating cigarette smuggling, public education, and tobacco cessation treatment.

Today's adoption of the treaty by the World Health Assembly is only the first step. The key now is for nations to quickly sign and ratify the treaty and fully implement its important public health measures. As they have done throughout the treaty negotiations, the tobacco companies will undoubtedly work to delay and weaken the implementation process in individual nations. It is critical that nations reject tobacco industry pressure and put the health of their citizens first.

The United States has a critical role to play by continuing to provide scientific expertise and financial resources to help nations implement the public health measures in the treaty. The U.S. government this week took an important step forward by dropping its efforts to reopen the treaty negotiations and eliminating this final obstacle to adoption of the treaty by the World Health Assembly.

The treaty has already begun to have an impact on countries all over the world. For example, India passed legislation, which it now implementing, to ban all forms of direct and indirect advertising and prohibit smoking in public places. Tanzania recently passed legislation calling for a comprehensive tobacco control plan. With a strong tobacco treaty behind them, many more nations will be better equipped to resist the industry's powerful political influence and enact proven measures to reduce tobacco use, improve health and save lives. The treaty will be open for signing starting on June 16 and will formally take effect once 40 nations have ratified it.

We would also like to commend World Health Organization Director General Gro Harlem Brundtland for her courage and vision in recognizing the threat to global health posed by the tobacco epidemic and proposing the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control as the world's first public health treaty. We also commend delegates and advocates from Africa, Asia, the Middle East and other regions that stood their ground throughout the more than three years of negotiations and would not settle for anything less than a strong treaty. Their legacy will be improved health and millions of lives saved around the world.