GENEVA – Intergovernmental negotiations that will lead to a Framework Convention on Tobacco Control governing the sale and marketing of tobacco are set to begin in earnest today (Tuesday).  

The talks, being held under the auspices of the World Health Organisation, officially opened yesterday (Monday) but most of the day was spent attending to procedural issues, including the election of a chairperson of the intergovernmental negotiating body. This position will be held by Brazil’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva, Celso Amorim.  

Members of the South African delegation to the negotiations expressed their satisfaction with his election, saying they believed he would provide sufficiently strong leadership for the proceedings.

As delegates from member states took their seats yesterday, the Framework Convention Alliance, an alliance of more than 60 groups from 20 countries which supports the proposed tobacco control treaty, urged the assembly to keep as their principal aim, the need to “substantially and quickly reduce death, disease and disability” which result from tobacco smoking.  

The alliance said that public health provisions should take precedence over other international agreements such as trade liberalisation. “The protection and promotion of public health must be the guiding principle for all the decisions and actions of the negotiating parties,” it said in a statement.

This position was endorsed by the Commonwealth Medical (CMA) which said, “the science is beyond question, we know how tobacco harms and what the health consequences are of its use actively and passively”.  

The CMA urged member states to support a framework convention that protected those who were most vulnerable to the messages put out by the tobacco industry, especially adolescents and young people. It also warned of the harmful economic effects of reducing tobacco growing and harvesting, and said that transitional arrangements needed to be put in place to assist tobacco growers to diversify into other crops and manufacturing.  

The negotiations are scheduled to continue for the rest of this week. At least two further rounds of negotiations are anticipated before the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is ready for signature in May 2003.