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U.S. should sign AND ratify international tobacco treaty

April 10, 2004

Washington, DC — On May 21, 2003, the world’s nations took an historic step toward containing the global death toll from tobacco use by approving the first international public health treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Since then, a growing number of nations have begun to turn the treaty’s promise into action by signing and ratifying the treaty and even starting to implement its provisions. Unfortunately, the United States to date has taken no action in support of the treaty. To advance efforts to address tobacco’s tremendous toll both in the United States and around the world, the U.S. government must sign AND ratify this treaty, as well as support its effective implementation domestically and internationally.

Signing the treaty without committing to its ratification would be little more than a public relations gesture because signing does not commit the U.S. to implement any of its provisions. Unless signing is accompanied by submission of the treaty to the Senate for ratification, our government would not be a leader in taking real action to contain the global tobacco epidemic. Signing alone would create the illusion of a commitment to addressing the tobacco problem without any meaningful action to actually reduce tobacco use and its devastating consequences.

The treaty will enter into force and become international law after 40 countries have ratified it. To date, there have been 102 signatories to the treaty (including the European Community) and nine countries have ratified it. While the World Health Organization has set a deadline of June 29 for nations to sign the treaty, signing the treaty by itself is largely a symbolic act. In fact, the United States does not actually have to sign the treaty in order to submit it to the Senate for ratification. Ratification is a far more important step than signature because only ratification by a sufficient number of countries can bring the treaty into force and only ratification can obligate nations to implement its provisions.

Ratification and implementation of the treaty are critical to turning the tide of the global tobacco epidemic. Tobacco use already kills more than four million people worldwide every year. If current trends continue, it will kill 10 million a year within two decades, with 70 percent of those deaths in developing nations. These nations have been the primary targets of the tobacco companies as smoking rates have slowly declined in more developed nations.

The treaty gives nations powerful new tools to protect the health of their citizens from the tobacco industry’s deceptions and slick marketing. It requires ratifying nations to adopt two policies proven to reduce smoking and save lives: a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, with an exception for nations with constitutional constraints, and large health warning labels that cover at least 30 percent of cigarette packs. The treaty also provides nations with a roadmap for enacting strong, science-based policies in other areas, including secondhand smoke protections, tobacco taxation, tobacco product regulation and measures to combat cigarette smuggling.

Although the policies endorsed by the treaty reflect the best recommendations of the United States’ own scientific experts and studies, the U.S. government consistently fought to weaken almost every provision of the treaty during negotiations and supported positions consistent with those of the tobacco industry. Delegates to the negotiations reported that the U.S. threatened to withhold monetary and technical assistance to international tobacco control efforts if its positions were not adopted. Fortunately, developing nations that are on the front lines of the tobacco epidemic stood up to these efforts, and a strong treaty was negotiated and adopted. While the U.S. last May joined other nations in unanimously agreeing to send the treaty out for ratification, it did so only after its last-ditch effort to reopen negotiations failed. Our government has never actually endorsed the treaty’s specific provisions or made a commitment to ratification.

By signing and ratifying the treaty, and supporting its effective implementation domestically and internationally, the U.S. can begin to undo the tremendous harm it did during the treaty negotiations and again become a leader in protecting public health around the world.

For more information on the FCTC, please call Nicole Dueffert at 202-296-5469 x3035.