Tobacco Treaty May Lose U.S. Support
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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."