Tobacco control – talks underway

Tobacco control – talks underway

By Sue Valentine

GENEVA – Negotiations for a world treaty on tobacco control begin here today (Monday) among members of the World Health Assembly under the auspices of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The negotiations follow two days of public hearings which ended last week at which non-government organisations, the tobacco industry and tobacco growers presented their arguments for or against the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) as proposed by the WHO.  

The draft Framework Convention identifies three key areas of concern regarding tobacco – the protection of youth, the prevention of smuggling and the proper labelling of tobacco products.  

The negotiations are set to finalise the text of the global tobacco treaty, as well as to propose and agree various protocols that would be country or region specific.

Legal advisor to the South African health minister, Patricia Lambert said essentially the parties had two options to consider. They could opt for a strong treaty which might make it difficult for certain countries to sign, or they could endorse a more loosely-worded convention that would gain broader support. Such a tobacco convention could then include specific protocols which could be regionally defined and agreed, such as within the Southern African Development Community.

During last week’s public hearings, speaker after speaker urged the WHO to adopt tough measures to curb the harmful effects of tobacco and not to be duped by the reasonable face presented by major tobacco companies that also testified.  

They also urged the WHO not to include the tobacco industry in any negotiations about the contents and application of the tobacco control convention. As one speaker put it, if you were discussing the bubonic plague, you wouldn’t invite rats to take part in the convention.  

Anti-smoking campaigners said that partial bans on advertising did not work, a ban on toacco advertising should be a complete ban in order to try to limit the number of new smokers likely to be recruited through advertising and marketing.  

Tobacco giants, British American Tobacco and Philip Morris both conceded publicly that cigarette smoking was addictive and caused lung cancer, emphyzema and other illnesses.  

Nevertheless, they also affirmed their belief in and commitment to their business. As the vice president of Philip Morris Europe said in his submission, “we are proud of our products”.  

Davies also argued that the tobacco companies bore no legal responsibility for those who claimed that their health had been damaged from smoking, because it was their choice to smoke.  

This prompted several anti-tobacco activists to remind the WHO that nicotine was addictive and that tobacco companies were fully aware of this and yet they continued to demand the right to market and distribute their products.  

According to WHO figures, tobacco kills 4 million people per year worldwide. By 2030, 10 million people will die each year, with the developing world accounting for more than two thirds of those deaths.  

The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is the world’s first public health conventino and is expected to be ready for states to sign by May 2003. – Health-e News Service.