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Contrary to Administration's Claim, U.S. Lags Behind the World In Supporting and Implementing Tobacco Treaty

Statement of Matthew L. Myers President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
January 29, 2007

Washington, DC — In a January 25, 2007, story in The Wall Street Journal, a Bush Administration spokesman is quoted as saying that the Administration agrees with most core principles of the international tobacco control treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, and that 'we want to engage with the rest of the world to help bring them up to our standards.' The facts tell a different story. The United States has not been a strong supporter of the treaty and, far from continuing to set an example for the world in fighting tobacco use as it has historically done, the U.S. currently is falling behind many countries because of its failure to ratify the treaty and implement its provisions.

This Administration repeatedly sought to weaken the treaty's provisions throughout the negotiating process (fortunately, it was usually unsuccessful). While the U.S. signed the treaty in May 2004, the Administration has dragged its heels for nearly three years without sending the treaty to the Senate for ratification. The Administration has said the 35-page treaty is ongoing legal review, but the fact that the review has taken so long is an indication that at best ratification is a low priority. The Administration also claims that the treaty raises First Amendment constitutional concerns. In fact, the treaty's requirement that nations ban all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship includes an explicit exemption for nations with constitutional constraints, requiring these countries to implement restrictions to the extent constitutionally allowed.

In short, the Administration has not stated a credible reason for its failure to submit the treaty for ratification. We call on President Bush to immediately submit the tobacco treaty to the Senate for ratification, and we call on the Senate to quickly ratify it.

While the U.S. lags, 143 countries have now ratified the treaty, including China, the world's largest producer and consumer of tobacco, and other major tobacco producing nations such as India and Japan. The U.S. now lags behind many countries in implementing key tobacco control measures called for by the treaty, such as large, graphic health warnings, bans on misleading terms such as 'light' and 'low-tar', and bans or restrictions on tobacco marketing.

The U.S. has a special obligation to ratify the treaty and provide global leadership in the fight against tobacco use because we are home to Philip Morris, the world's largest multinational tobacco company. It also sends the wrong message when the world's wealthiest and most powerful nation fails to lead in addressing a global epidemic that kills five million people worldwide each year, including more than 400,000 in the U.S. Unless current trends are reversed, tobacco use will claim one billion lives worldwide this century. The United States government should be setting an example and leading the fight against this global catastrophe, not dragging its heels and making excuses.