- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 1, 2003

GENEVA, Switzerland, March 1 (UPI) — Senior officials from 171 countries agreed early Saturday on a historic draft global health treaty to stem deaths from smoking related diseases, which last year were blamed for 4.9 million deaths.

"This is a major step forward for the health of peoples and nations," said Gro Harlem Brundtland, director general of the World Health Organization, the agency which sponsored the talks.

The WHO estimates the number of smokers worldwide currently at over 1.3 billion, and also projects the number of smoking related deaths to reach 10 million a year by the early 2020s. Seventy percent of these are expected to be in the developing world unless firm measures are taken curb the the use of tobacco.

According to Tommy G. Thompson, U.S. secretary of health, "more than 400,00 people die each year from a smoking related diseases — primarily lung cancer, heart disease and chronic disease — resulting in expenditures of more than $75 billion annually in direct medical costs."

"I think it (the draft treaty) puts tobacco on the global public health agenda for the first time," Dr. Alfred Munster, past president and spokesman for the American lung association told reporters.

"This treaty will result in unprecedented global action by countries to reduce tobacco use," Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst at the Canadian Cancer society, told United Press International.

"It is an extremely important element of the emerging international legal order and the first multilateral framework convention ever by the WHO," said The Brazilian chairman of the talks ambassador, Luis Felipe Seixas Correa.

However, Germany and the United States gave clear indications they had concerns with some provisions related to advertising, marketing and labeling.

The United States said it "cannot accept" provisions related to packaging and labeling, advertising and sales and by minors, and which fail to take take into account the separation of powers and the role of states.

"The United States has systematically tried to undermine the strength of virtually every key issue in this convention. It's pretty disgraceful," Ira Shapiro, consultant adviser to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, and a former senior U.S. trade negotiator, told United Press International

The United States did not oppose the draft framework convention on tobacco control put forward to the World Health Assembly in May, where it is expected to be adopted. However U.S. officials said they will search for flexibility, or additions to the draft, that would enable it to sign off on the accord.

However, diplomats are optimistic that given the strong global support for the draft accord, Germany and the United States will probably come round.

Brundtland told reporters its "very highly unlikely" the world health assembly will reopen the text to accommodate one country.

"There's no way to stop this treaty," said one senior health diplomat, noting if any country tried to block adoption of the treaty by consensus, passage could be secured by mustering the necessary two-thirds support of all delegations present and voting.

China, which has over 300 million smokers, said it was a historic and "epic making" moment … history will remember today."

The groundbreaking pact, reached after three and a half years of marathon talks, includes rules on product regulation, tobacco taxation and tough norms to ban or restrict advertising and promotion — and to combat smuggling or illicit trade.

It also provides measures against the risk of passive smoking.

The deal was clinched after developing countries from the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Africa, put up a "united front" and pushed for tough provisions opposed by the United States and Germany and some other countries, senior health diplomats said.

The decision in the end to back the accord by China, Cuba and Japan, which had earlier threatened a tough line on certain provisions, also surprised many negotiators.

On Tuesday, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association and the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids alleged the United States was trying to water down provisions aimed at reaching a strong treaty and called on it to withdraw from the talks.

The U.S. government "squandered an opportunity" to lead said Dr. Munster and added, "t has instead chosen to be the handmaiden of the tobacco industry."

South Africa said for the first time the 46 African nations had spoken "with a single voice" and was applauded when it noted the treaty will strengthen poor nations in facing up to the influential tobacco industry.

"They will not find us as weak and defenseless as they have found us in the past," South Africa said.

"Tobacco kills and the addicting nature of nicotine is no different than heroin and cocaine yet tobacco is unabatedly being marketed worldwide," said Dr. Carmelita Canila, health policy advisor at Consumers International.

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