WHO adopts historic treaty to curb smoking deaths
GENEVA (AFP) - The World Health Organisation (WHO) unanimously adopted a landmark treaty imposing curbs on sales of cigarettes to cut the five million deaths from smoking a year.
The pact is the first global treaty committing governments to deal with a major public health issue.
"Today we are acting to save billions of lives and protect people's health for generations to come," said Gro Harlem Brundtland, WHO director general who championed the pact.
"This is a historic moment in global public health, demonstrating the international will to tackle a threat to health head on," she said Wednesday.
The treaty aims to cut smoking-related deaths and disease worldwide by imposing curbs on the advertising, sponsorship and promotion of tobacco.
It also requires countries to establish new labelling and to strengthen legislation to clamp down on tobacco smuggling.
The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control was drawn up after three years of sometimes bitter negotiations that ended early March.
Member states of the Geneva-based UN health agency unanimously adopted the treaty after Germany, Japan and the United States dropped reservations over a limited advertising ban at the last minute.
"There can be no questioning the profound dedication of the United States to controlling the public health threat from smoking," US Health Secretary Tommy Thompson told the WHO's annual assembly.
In Brussels, EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne welcomed the adoption as an historic moment.
"Global problems need global partnerships and local solutions," he said in a statement.
"Armed with this convention we can move forward to make tobacco control a cornerstone of health and development."
It will take effect after the 40th of the WHO's 192 member states ratifies it, and will open for signature at WHO headquarters from June 16.
WHO warns that the death toll from smoking could double to 10 million by 2020 if countries do not implement the pact's measures.
Smoking rates are on the decline in some industrialised countries, but are increasing especially among young people in many developing countries, the WHO said.
"We must do our utmost to ensure that young people everywhere have the best opportunities for a healthy life," Brundtland added.
"By signing, ratifying and acting on this tobacco convention, we can live up to this responsibility," she said.
She said the important thing was that the convention should come into force as soon as possible and that it should be used by governments as the basis for their national tobacco-control legislation.
The treaty was voted in during WHO's annual assembly here, which opened on May 19 and is due to run through May 28.
A ban on advertising proved to be the most contentious issue in the drawing up of the convention, with more than 100 states, especially in Africa and south-east Asia and about 20 European countries favouring a total ban.
Others were vehemently opposed, however.
In the end, the convention stated that "each party shall, in accordance with its constitution or constitutional principles, undertake a comprehensive ban of all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship."
Countries unable under their constitutions to impose such a ban would seek to restrict tobacco advertising.
Research published by experts from the WHO and World Bank (news - web sites) has indicated that tighter controls on tobacco use will not lead to immediate and massive job losses for tobacco industry workers.
The worldwide tobacco industry employs about 100 million people, according to the International Labour Organisation.