WHO Backs Lawsuits Against Tobacco Giants
GENEVA (Reuters) - The World Health Organization (news - web sites) said Monday it would offer expertise and advice to countries planning to take tobacco companies to court over tobacco-related deaths and diseases.
As a new round of talks began on a global treaty to contain the growth in tobacco use, the WHO said support and technical assistance were needed by member states more used to fighting smoking-related diseases in the clinics than in the courts.
Citing successful cases in the United States and India, it said it would gather expertise, encourage collaboration and help with tasks such as document analysis.
The WHO says tobacco-related diseases kill eight people every minute. It predicts that 10 million people will be dying each year of tobacco-related causes by 2030.
"Litigation is not for everyone. It has to be handled with great care and discipline but its power is so great that it simply must be implemented into the global approach to tobacco control," said Douglas Blanke, author of a WHO report on making greater use of the courts.
The report, 'Toward Health with Justice', said proper litigation could change the behavior of the tobacco giants and offer victims of smoking-related diseases the chance of financial compensation.
But the United Nations (news - web sites)' health body added that court cases and public inquiries into tobacco firms were valuable public health tools but no panacea for stopping the rise of tobacco- related diseases.
WHO charges that global efforts to minimize the damage such as price hikes, advertising bans, public education and give-up smoking initiatives, are being hampered by tobacco firms.
"Progress has been thwarted by a tobacco industry seeking new and younger tobacco users," said Derek Yach, WHO's Executive Director of Non-Communicable Diseases and Mental Health.
"Tobacco industry tactics constitute the single greatest hurdle on the road to tobacco control," he added.
Representatives of the WHO's 191 member states are meeting this week in Geneva on the proposed Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which the WHO hopes to have up and running by the end of May 2003.
But the United States, Japan and Germany are accused by anti-tobacco groups of bowing to pressure from their large tobacco firms to water down proposed tough rules on tobacco advertising.
"The challenge is not to get a treaty at any cost. We could have a treaty today which would be full of soothing words but would not commit anyone to anything," said Clive Bates, Director of the ASH no-smoking lobby.