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Treaty Restricts or Bans Tobacco Ads

World Health Assembly Adopts Tobacco Control Pact

May 22, 2003 -- The members of the World Health Organization (WHO) have adopted an international treaty aimed at curbing tobacco-related deaths and disease. At least 40 nations must now ratify the treaty for it to go into effect. They have until June 29, 2004 to sign the document.

The WHO treaty would restrict or ban tobacco advertising, adopt policies to reduce tobacco consumption, and establish national programs promoting tobacco control and smoking prevention. Specific provisions require nations to:

  • create programs to discourage tobacco consumption and prevent tobacco addiction;
  • provide protection from exposure to tobacco smoke in indoor workplaces, public transport, and indoor public places;
  • implement tax and price policies that would reduce tobacco use;
  • prohibit or restrict duty-free international tobacco sales;
  • adopt guidelines for measuring, testing, and regulating tobacco emissions;
  • disclose the toxic nature of tobacco and cigarette emissions to the public, and train health care, community, and social workers about tobacco hazards;
  • establish large, clear, visible health warnings on cigarettes and other tobacco products;
  • ensure that tobacco packaging is not false, misleading, or deceptive;
  • restrict illicit trade in tobacco products by monitoring cross-border tobacco sales; and
  • restrict cigarette and tobacco sales to minors.

The treaty would prohibit tobacco advertising. However, the prohibition does not apply to a nation such as the United States whose constitution does not allow such advertising bans. In those countries in which tobacco advertising would still exist, the advertisements may not be false or misleading and must meet other requirements. Also, the treaty restricts tobacco sponsorship of international events.

US Had Tried to Water Down the Treaty

In March, the United States had objected to the WHO treaty because countries could not opt out of individual clauses. Many consumer groups accused the United States government of trying to block or water down the treaty, claiming that it was influenced by Philip Morris and other large tobacco companies.

"Much to the surprise of many around the world, I am going to be supporting the tobacco treaty," United States Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson announced last week (Washington Post, May 19, 2003). However, treaty ratification is up to President George W. Bush and Congress. Mr. Thompson emphasized that the government is still studying the issue.

The Death and Destruction Caused by Tobacco Use

By the year 2030, tobacco will be the leading cause of death and disability, according to WHO projections, killing more people worldwide than HIV, tuberculosis, maternal mortality, motor vehicle accidents, suicide and homicide combined (Treat Tobacco Dependence, Richard D. Hurt, Bulletin of the World Health Organization). Currently, about 5 million people die annually from tobacco, many of whom live in developing nations. In the United States, over 400,000 Americans die annually from cigarette smoking; one in every five deaths is smoking related (Cigarette Smoking-Related Mortality, National Center For Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion).

Cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, emphysema, heart attacks and strokes. Sadly, it is prevalent among youth and adolescents. Secondhand smoke is also a major problem. In the United States, for example, secondhand smoke is responsible for more than 300,000 annual cases of bronchitis and pneumonia in children under 18 months old (see Smoking Among Mothers of Young Children).

The WHO treaty recognizes the health, social, environmental, and economic consequences of smoking. It is an attempt to find global solutions to reduce and prevent tobacco use and to deal with its devastating effects. The complete text of the treaty, also known as the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, is available on the WHO web site. You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to access the text. If you do not already have the software installed on your computer, you may download a free copy.

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