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China, World’s Largest Cigarette Market, Ratifies Tobacco Treaty; U.S. Still On the Sidelines Because of Failure to Ratify

Statement of William V. Corr, Executive Director Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
August 29, 2005

Washington, DC — While China, which is both the largest grower and the biggest consumer of tobacco in the world, ratified the international tobacco control treaty yesterday, the United States continues to sit on the sidelines because the President has yet to submit the treaty to the Senate for ratification. Surely if other major tobacco-producing nations, such as India, Japan and China, can overcome the influence of the tobacco industry to ratify the treaty, the U.S. can as well. The U.S. has a special obligation to ratify the treaty and provide global leadership in reducing tobacco use because we are home to Philip Morris, the world’s largest multinational tobacco company and the leading exporter of the deadly products that cause the tobacco epidemic.

We call on President Bush to immediately submit the treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, to the Senate for ratification, and we call on the Senate to quickly ratify it. By ratifying the treaty and supporting its effective implementation both domestically and internationally, the U.S. can again become a leader in protecting public health around the world.

While the U.S. has signed the treaty, ratification is a far more important step because only ratification can obligate nations to implement its provisions. It is in both the United States’ interest and the world’s interest that our nation be a leader in this important initiative. It sends the wrong message to the rest of the world if the wealthiest and most powerful nation fails to lead in addressing a global epidemic that kills almost five million people every year. Unless effective action is taken, tobacco’s toll will rise to 10 million deaths a year by 2030, with 70 percent of those deaths in developing nations. This is a global catastrophe that our own government simply cannot ignore.

China’s ratification underscores the tremendous global momentum to ratify and implement the tobacco treaty. The treaty, which became international law in February 2005, has been signed by 168 countries and ratified by 78 countries. Along with China, ratifying countries include other major tobacco producing nations such as India and Japan; countries with strong domestic tobacco control policies, such as Canada, Thailand, Australia and Norway; the European Community and many of its member states including Germany and France; and many developed and developing countries hoping to use the treaty to improve laws and regulations to combat tobacco use.

The United States has always been the world’s scientific leader in developing public health measures that reduce tobacco use. The tobacco treaty enshrines as international law many of the solutions our own scientific community has identified. It commits nations to ban all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (with an exception for nations with constitutional constraints); require large, graphic health warnings on cigarette packs; implement measures to protect non-smokers from secondhand smoke; increase the price of tobacco products; and regulate the content of tobacco products. Nonetheless, today the U.S. is no longer in the forefront. Renewed U.S. leadership is essential to advancing and implementing the science on how best to reduce tobacco use.

Too often in the past, our government has sided with the tobacco companies when they challenged other nations’ tobacco control measures as violations of trade agreements. U.S. ratification of the treaty would send a strong message to the rest of the world that we will not support these efforts and instead put protection of public health ahead of tobacco industry interests.

Finally, unless the U.S. ratifies the treaty, it will not have a seat at the table in determining how it is implemented and enforced and in negotiating side agreements on issues such as cigarette smuggling that are of importance to the U.S. The U.S. should join the 78 countries that have already ratified the treaty and again become in global leader in reducing tobacco use and its devastating consequences.