U.S. Wants 'Out' In Tobacco Treaty
(CBS) The Bush administration is pressing for changes that critics say would weaken a tobacco treaty that has broad international support.
The proposed U.N. treaty would impose worldwide restrictions on advertising and labeling, while clamping down on smuggling and secondhand smoke. A draft text of the treaty was adopted by more than 170 nations on March 1 over U.S. objections.
The draft accord, under negotiation for four years, will be voted on at a World Health Organization meeting in Geneva, beginning May 19. If adopted there, the treaty would have to be ratified by each nation's legislature.
The Bush administration wants to allow countries to approve the pact but opt out of individual clauses â€” a procedure known as taking reservations.
Such flexibility is necessary to deal with U.S. constitutional issues, including freedom of speech for tobacco companies, and matters that are the province of state governments, said Bill Pierce, a spokesman for the Health and Human Services Department.
The draft treaty contains a ban on reservations. The United States failed to get the ban removed during earlier negotiations, but is asking WHO and other governments for their support in deleting the provision before the treaty is adopted.
"We are only doing this because it is of great concern to us," Pierce said. "We want to sign it."
A diplomatic note stating the U.S. position implies that the administration would not sign the treaty without changes, but Pierce said no decision has been reached.
Democrats and anti-tobacco advocates said that, if successful, the administration would render the treaty powerless or risk unraveling it by reopening negotiations.
"Allowing countries to take reservations to any aspect of the treaty could significantly undermine its effectiveness," Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said. "There would be no guarantee that any of the public health standards would apply equally around the globe."
Waxman wrote Mr. Bush on Tuesday to urge him to sign the treaty as is. Separately, Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leaders in the Senate and House respectively, asked Mr. Bush in a letter not to reopen negotiations.
Matthew Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said, "It would be better for the rest of the world for the United States not to sign the treaty than to demand that the treaty be gutted so that the United States could sign it."
WHO hopes the treaty, called the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, will stem smoking-related deaths which the U.N. agency says will likely soar from the current 4.9 million per year to 10 million within the next 25 years.
According to WHO, tobacco is projected to kill more people than the combined toll from AIDS, car accidents, maternal mortality, homicide and suicide.
The proposed treaty language was much tougher than expected as a result of a united front by developing countries who complain that they are falling victim to merciless campaigns by multinational tobacco companies.
Some tobacco companies have targeted developing countries as smoking has become less popular in developed countries. In some cases, advertising has implicitly targeted minors.
Germany and China also joined the United States in March in expressing concerns about the treaty.
According to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics, the tobacco industry donated more than $8.6 million to campaigns in 2000, 83 percent of it to Republicans. In the most recent cycle, it spent more than $8.9 million, directing about three-fourths of the cash to the GOP.