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Global Anti-Smoking Pact Takes Effect From Sunday
Stephanie Nebehay, Reuters (25 Feb 2005 05:01AM ET)

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND: A global treaty aimed at dissuading children from smoking and helping adults kick the habit comes into force Sunday despite what health officials say has been heavy lobbying by the tobacco industry.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says the world's first international public health treaty could save millions of lives through strong warnings on cigarette packages and bans on tobacco advertising and sponsorship.

"I encourage all countries ... to implement the range of measures that will make tobacco use less and less attractive," WHO Director-General Lee Jong-wook said.

Tobacco, the second leading cause of preventable deaths globally after hypertension, kills 4.9 million people a year, the U.N. agency said.

And the annual death toll from tobacco-related diseases -- lung cancer, heart attacks and cardiovascular diseases -- could soar to 10 million by 2020, with 70 percent of the deaths in developing countries, it added.

The treaty, known as the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, gives members three years to slap strong health warnings on tobacco packages and five years to ban advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

It also recommends tax increases on tobacco products, a crackdown on smuggling, and reducing exposure to second-hand smoke.

Approved by the WHO's 192 member states in May 2003, the pact becomes law Sunday, 90 days after the trigger of the 40th state ratifying it.

It will only carry legal weight in those countries which have ratified it, now numbering 57. In total, 167 countries have signed the pact -- but have not necessarily sent it to parliament for ratification.


WHO officials and activists say the powerful tobacco industry is lobbying intensively to prevent countries ratifying the treaty, including the United States which has signed up but not yet sent it to the Senate.

"The tobacco industry wants to be free to sell and market their deadly products in such a way that they have more and more profits. This is the only language the tobacco industry knows," Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, director of the WHO's Tobacco Free Initiative, told journalists.

"In Brazil, my country, the tobacco industry is furiously lobbying the Congress and the Senate in order not to get the treaty ratified. They are using the tobacco farmers to make the case, saying that they will lose their jobs."

Activists accuse the Bush administration, which signed the pact last May, of having worked hard to dilute it.

"U.S. ratification of the treaty would send a strong message to the rest of the world that we will not support these efforts and instead put protection of public health ahead of tobacco industry interests," the U.S.-based Tobacco Free Kids lobby group said.

Douglas Bettcher, treaty coordinator, was upbeat. "We are happy to report that industry is not winning this game."

Some of the largest tobacco growers -- India, Japan, Pakistan, Thailand and Turkey -- as well as cigarette producing countries such as Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey are among those which ratified have the treaty, he said.


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