US 'should quit tobacco talks'
Health campaigners are demanding the US withdraw from negotiations about an international anti-tobacco treaty.
A coalition of US medical groups claim that the Bush administration is trying to sabotage the talks because it wants to protect the interests of the tobacco industry.
The call follows complaints from developing countries that the US is using bully boy tactics and financial threats to try to water down the agreement.
John Seffin, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society, said: "The US government is working methodically to weaken virtually every aspect of this treaty.
"The time has come for the US to stand aside and allow the rest of the world to complete a treaty strong enough to change the course of the tobacco epidemic."
And Alfred Munzer, of the American Lung Association, said: "I am ashamed of the role my government has played in the negotiations.
"It has clearly sacrificed long-term improvement in global public health to serve the interests of an industry whose product is responsible for four million deaths annually from cancer, heart disease and emphysema."
However, Terry Pechacek, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a member of the US delegation, was adamant that his team was negotiating in "good faith".
He said: "We are making a very sincere effort to bring home a treaty which can be signed and ratified."
Government representatives have until Friday to agree on the so-called Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
The vast majority of countries want the treaty to introduce sweeping restrictions against tobacco, including a total advertising ban and tough labelling controls.
Developing nations also want the agreement to state that health should be given priority over trade in international law - thus protecting them from potential US action in the World Trade Organization if they try to impose restrictions on cigarette imports.
However, the US has flatly rejected an advertising ban, saying it would violate constitutional principles of free speech.
It is also insisting on the right to be exempted from provisions it does not like.
Thailand's Hatai Chitanondh said the US delegation had told the meeting that it would stop funding anti-tobacco programmes if it didn't get its way.
He said: "It's very arrogant. The US has the technology and sophisticated tobacco control programs and yet they are behaving like this toward the rest of the world."
The World Health Organization, which is sponsoring the talks, predicts 10 million people a year will die from smoking-related diseases by 2030.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2003/02/25 17:35:22
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