- The Washington Times - Monday, May 19, 2003

Cigarette packs will carry bigger warning labels and cigarette smugglers will face tougher penalties if the United States ratifies an international antitobacco treaty being crafted by the World Health Organization, industry observers predict.

It will be many years before such changes occur, if they happen at all. The treaty must be signed by the president and ratified by Congress to take effect. A senior Bush administration official announced his support this week, but it is not clear if the president will actually sign off on it.

“You would see a lower profile of tobacco in general” if the treaty is ratified, said David J. Adelman, an industry analyst for Morgan Stanley, one of the world’s top investment banks.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson told attendees at a WHO meeting in Geneva Sunday that the administration was dropping its objections to the treaty. The announcement surprised many, since the administration had previously indicated it could not accept some of the key provisions of the draft accord, including those related to packaging, labeling, advertising and sales.

Yesterday, White House spokesmanScott McClellan said the administration hopes some of those matters can be ironed out before the draft is finalized tomorrow. “We have always said we want a strong and effective treaty we can sign. … We have a preference to sign it,” Mr. McClellan said.

The WHO is trying to combat the number of smoking-related deaths, which it estimates will reach about 10 million a year by the early 2020s. More than 1.3 billion people worldwide smoke, the organization estimates.

The treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, restricts advertising of tobacco products, requires all ingredients to be listed on product packaging, encourages high tobacco taxes and calls for broad legal liability for manufacturers, among other measures.

Forty nations must ratify the treaty before it takes effect. Only two other countries, Germany and the Dominican Republic, have publicly expressed reservations, and Germany has since said it will sign it.

Antismoking advocates applauded Mr. Thompson’s support for the accord, but groups that promote limited government said the pact is not needed.

“The United States has [smoking] laws on the books in all 50 states. We don’t need the world government to deal with this issue,” said Bob Levy, senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute.

Raising tobacco taxes could actually increase cigarette smuggling, he added.

Consumers probably would see more “in your face” warning labels on cigarette packs under a ratified treaty, Mr. Adelman said. The United States also would crack down more on cigarette smuggling, he said.

It is unlikely the provision that calls for a ban on tobacco advertising would pass muster because the courts generally have upheld commercial free-speech laws, Mr. Adelman and other analysts said.

Executives at Altria Group Inc., the world’s largest tobacco company, yesterday cheered Mr. Thompson’s support for the treaty, saying the pact incorporates broad principles, and it will be up to each country to turn those principles into laws. Executives expressed reservations about the provisions regarding higher taxation and giving consumers more freedom to sue tobacco manufacturers.

The New York company, which owns Philip Morris International Inc., controls about 49 percent of the nation’s tobacco market.

Executives hope a ratified treaty will force Congress to move industry regulation under the Food and Drug Administration, which they say will foster more-uniform standards for how tobacco products are manufactured and sold.

“We hope [FDA regulation is] the next outcome of this process,” said Mark Berlind, Altria’s legislative counsel.

Altria competitors oppose FDA regulation of the industry, saying it could hamper their efforts to market their products, which would benefit Philip Morris.

R.J. Reynolds, the nation’s second-largest tobacco company, said there are “ample reasons” the United States should not sign the treaty.

“The U.S. government already has the authority it needs to determine appropriate rules governing this industry,” the statement said.

Altria does not want to be seen as an obstructionist, industry analysts said.

“Quite frankly, I think the Philip Morris people recognize this is something coming down the pike, and they would rather get on board now and help frame it. It behooves them from a public-relations standpoint,” said one analyst.

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