Anti-tobacco group urges Southeast Asian countries to take tough common stance
An international anti-tobacco group urged Southeast Asian countries meeting in Bangkok to take a tough common stance ahead of global negotiations next month for a U.N.-sponsored treaty on tobacco control.
Government representatives from the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations began a three-day meeting yesterday to discuss a draft of the global treaty, which is aimed at controlling the use, sale, advertisement and smuggling of cigarettes and other tobacco products.
The Framework Convention Alliance, which comprises more than 180 nongovernment groups from over 70 countries, wants the treaty to include, among other things, a full ban on tobacco advertising and terms like "light" and "low tar," which it says lull smokers into a false sense of security.
The fifth round of negotiations to produce the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control treaty, will be held under the auspices of the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland between Oct. 14-25. The treaty, due for ratification in May 2003, would be legally-binding.
"The position that ASEAN nations takes is important to the final outcome of the treaty because ASEAN includes countries with some of the most progressive tobacco control legislation in the world," the alliance said in a statement.
Thailand and Singapore, both ASEAN members, have strong anti-tobacco laws. For example, Thailand bans scenes depicting smoking on television and smoking in virtually all air conditioned public places.
But other ASEAN members have some of the weakest anti-tobacco legislation in the world. According to the WHO, most Asian countries also levy low cigarette taxes, have poor regulations on advertising and almost no control on sponsorship.
The alliance says that tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of premature death and disease. Worldwide each year, 4 million people die as a result of tobacco-caused diseases. Since the negotiations on the global convention began in October 1999, over 11 million people have died from tobacco-related illnesses, the alliance claims.
The alliance has worked with governments in helping to draft a strong treaty, and several of its members will attend the ASEAN meeting. But it says the draft still has weaknesses that would be used by the tobacco industry as a powerful argument against stronger domestic legislation.
Among the major changes it wants is for the convention not to be subordinate to treaties between countries that prohibit trade discrimination.
"Non-discrimination in trade is an important value as it relates to trade in beneficial products. However, with respect to trade in tobacco products, public health must be the paramount concern," the alliance said.