Activists claim tobacco industry seeking to dilute health treaty
GENEVA (AFP) - Campaigners charged that the global tobacco industry is trying to water down an international treaty which aims to cut deaths and illness caused by smoking.
A coalition of activists said they were particularly worried by industry lobbying activities in developing countries. That could lead governments which are shaping their health policies in line with the treaty to choose the weakest options in the accord, they claimed.
"The tobacco giants really fought the treaty's negotiation and are now engaging in tactics all over the world in an attempt to interfere in the treaty's implementation," said Kathryn Mulvey, head of the US-based advocacy group Corporate Accountability International.
"We've seen time and time again that when the tobacco industry is involved in health policy we don't get strong health policy," she told reporters.
Known as the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the treaty came into force in February 2005 after several years of talks brokered by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The aim is to stop the estimated five million annual deaths caused by smoking from doubling by 2020.
Tobacco-related ill-health is also thought to sap 200 billion dollars from rich and poor countries.
Tobacco control is well advanced in many rich countries, and the convention is seen as an opportunity for the developing world, home to most of the victims, to catch up.
The convention has been ratified by 122 countries, now meeting in Geneva, which are expected to implement its provisions by 2010.
Akinbode Oluwafemi, of the Nigerian organisation Environmental Rights Action, pointed to tobacco corporations' "dialogue" with lawmakers there and sponsorship of awards for journalists.
The convention advocates putting bans on advertising and sponsorship, and also includes public smoking restrictions, larger health warnings on cigarette packs, and promotes taxation as a way to cut consumption.
It also says that governments are meant to "protect (their) policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry."
Yul Francisco Dorado of Corporate Accountability International pointed to this as he criticised an agreement between the Mexican government and tobacco firms to create a health fund financed at one peso (0.07 euros, 0.09 dollars) per pack of cigarettes sold.
The cigarette giant Philip Morris, which lobbied heavily against the convention, has since said it accepts some of its provisions, including health warnings and anti-contraband measures, but is urging a more measured approach to taxation.
Philip Morris and its counterparts British American Tobacco and Japan Tobacco International did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.