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World - AP Europe
Tobacco Treaty May Lose U.S. Support
Sat Mar 1, 3:42 PM ET

By CLARE NULLIS, Associated Press Writer

GENEVA - An international treaty aimed at curbing the spread of tobacco use may lose U.S. support over Bush administration concerns that the agreement does not allow individual nations the right to opt out of individual clauses of the accord.

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Over the U.S. objections, more than 170 nations agreed Saturday on a text for a tobacco treaty that would impose worldwide restrictions on advertising and labeling, while clamping down on smuggling and second-hand smoke.

The draft accord, four years in the making, next goes to the World Health Assembly in May for adoption. Germany and China also joined the United States in expressing reservations.

"We had hoped this could have been concluded as a consensus text," U.S. health attache David Hohman said. "Unfortunately this is not possible."

Hohman hinted to exhausted delegates that the United States might press for parts of the text to be renegotiated at the forthcoming World Health Organization (news - web sites) assembly. That risks the unraveling of the entire treaty.

The accord, called the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, proposes a ban on cigarette advertising except in countries, such as the United States, where this would be violate constitutional safeguards. These nations would have to adopt lesser restrictions instead.

The text also proposes that health warnings should occupy at least 30 percent of the pack and encourages the use of pictures of health problems such as diseased gums.

For the first time in an international treaty, the accord introduces the concept that manufacturers may be held liable for the health effects of their products. But, to avoid a legal minefield, the wording is fairly vague.

It says governments should consider tax hikes and do more to foster international cooperation to stamp out tobacco smuggling. The text also calls for policies against secondhand smoke � which are common in the United States but rare elsewhere in the world.

"The convention is a real milestone in the history of global public health," said WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland, who made the anti-tobacco campaign the focal point of her five-year term.

"Tobacco kills in every country of the world, and probably most of us know someone who has died," she added. "Due to the actions that will follow from our shared commitments, millions and millions of lives will be saved"

Although the United States has some of the toughest anti-tobacco legislation and long since banned television advertising, it was pilloried by health activists throughout the negotiations. Developing countries were suspicious that the United States � home to the world's biggest exporter Philip Morris � was more interested in protecting the tobacco industry than the health of the poor.

The U.S. delegation tried in vain to insert a provision allowing "reservations" a device that allows a government to opt out of individual clauses.

U.S. officials said such opt-out flexibility would be crucial in determining the acceptability of the treaty.

"We are disappointed that reservations are excluded which is a complication for our legislative process," Hohman said.

Hohman said the proposals for minimum size of health warnings on packs were unacceptable. The cigarette industry has argued this is in breach of its trademark rights.

He also criticized the provisions to ban distribution of free cigarettes to the public. Federal legislation allows for the regulation of commercially sold goods but not free products, he said.

The United States, he added, could not agree to the section of the text that expresses concern about high smoking levels in "indigenous peoples." Washington fears that use of "peoples" rather than "people" could imply sovereignty and would send a wrong signal to native American Indians.

Anti-smoking campaigners dismissed the U.S. concerns.

"We didn't expect the United States to ratify anyway," said Clive Bates, director of ASH UK. "They haven't ratified treaties like this for years. Their presence here is academic."

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