Tobacco Making Progress on Ad Ban
Two weeks of talks on the world's first anti-tobacco treaty ended Friday with a clear â€” and unexpected â€” shift toward sweeping restrictions and a possible ban on advertising.
Health campaigners said that the United States, Japan and Germany were still frustrating progress. But they said that European countries had broken ranks with Germany and joined African and Asian nations pushing for a tough treaty.
Negotiating chairman Luis Felipe de Seixas Correa declared himself "very pleased" with the progress.
"I think we had achieved exactly what we set out to achieve," said the Brazilian (news - web sites) diplomat. "We are closer than ever before to our final goal in time and substance."
The so-called Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is due to be adopted next May at the World Health Organization (news - web sites)'s annual assembly. The U.N. health agency says this is vital to prevent the smoking-related death toll from topping 10 million annually within the next 30 years.
WHO wants to stop young people from taking up the habit and to convince adults to quit through measures including price hikes; clearer warnings on packaging; prohibitions on the use of terms like low-tar and mild; stronger anti-smuggling measures and restrictions on vending machine sales.
It also wants to introduce the concept of manufacturers' liability.
Of all the provisions, those relating to advertising and marketing are the most contentious.
WHO director-general Gro Harlem Brundtland has long demanded a total ban on all advertising and promotional activity as the only effective way to stop tobacco companies from targeting youth.
The United States, home to the world's largest tobacco company, Philip Morris Inc., insists that this would violate its constitutional guarantees of free speech. That view is shared by Brazil. The Japanese government, which holds a 67 percent stake in Japan Tobacco International, also opposes a ban. So does Germany, which also has a powerful tobacco lobby.
De Seixas Correa's initial text at the start of the meeting said governments should "adopt and implement effective legislative ... measures to reduce, with the view to gradually eliminating the advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products."
This was viewed as too weak by the majority of delegations. In a significant move, Ireland spoke on behalf of 24 European countries in favor of eliminating tobacco advertising, effectively leaving Germany on its own.
"The shift in the European position on advertising seems to have provided the momentum needed to move the (treaty) strongly in the direction of a total ad ban," said the Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals â€” a group of non-governmental groups from 50 countries.
A compromise proposal circulated in the final days of the meeting said that countries should impose restrictions or a comprehensive ban on advertising "with due regard to its constitutional provisions."
"The question of a total ban will be included in the treaty. We'll have to see how," said De Seixas Correa, adding that individual countries were free to go ahead with bans ahead of the final treaty.
De Seixas Correa will now have to incorporate comments into a new document, which will be ready in January. The final round of talks is scheduled for February.
The non-governmental network said it feared that the Bush administration would try to water down the entire treaty â€” and then refuse to sign it, as was the case with the Kyoto treaty on greenhouse gas emissions or the agreement establishing an international Criminal Court.
U.S. officials denied those accusations, although they refused to give details about Washington's views of the emerging treaty.
WHO chief Brundtland said she hoped that the United States would sign up to the accord.
"The United States is actively taking part in the negotiations," said Brundtland, a former Norwegian prime minister and physician. "I'm sure that on their minds is to have a treaty they can sign. I think they would like to be part of the solution instead of on the outside."