15 Oct 2002 14:58
WHO boss says tobacco firms trying to derail treaty
By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA, Oct 15 (Reuters) - The head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) accused big tobacco firms on Tuesday of trying to derail talks on a global treaty to curb smoking.
In a speech at the start of 10 days of negotiations, Gro Harlem Brundtland also called on the industry to stop its so-called "young smoking prevention initiatives", saying they may actually encourage young people to take up the habit.
The proposed first international public health treaty, called the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, is due to be agreed by the WHO's 192 member states by May 2003.
The United Nations health agency unveiled a "Death Clock" showing more than 11.9 million smokers have died since talks on the treaty began in October 1999.
Brundtland, a former Norwegian prime minister and doctor, said the tobacco industry was lobbying governments to persuade them smoking could be controlled by voluntary agreements.
The international tobacco industry was "looking to derail our work", the WHO director-general said in her speech. "Tobacco companies fund and develop their own information campaigns to inform young people that smoking is an 'adult choice'."
But rather than reduce the numbers of young smokers, such campaigns "may actually encourage young people to smoke. We must oppose this move and call on tobacco companies to stop all youth smoking prevention initiatives without delay," she said.
Under the treaty, countries would pledge gradually to eliminate advertising and suppress the use of terms such as "mild" and "low tar", which the WHO regards as misleading.
"There is no concept of a safe cigarette," Derek Yach, a South African doctor who heads non-communicable diseases at WHO, told reporters.
Countries would work together to combat cigarette smuggling, which weakens the anti-smoking drive and accounts for up to $30 billion in lost annual revenue for governments.
States would also exchange information and research results which could be used in litigation cases against tobacco firms.
But activists say the proposals are too weak.
The Framework Convention Alliance, which groups 180 non-governmental groups, said the draft treaty contained soft language on smuggling, cigarette labeling and passive smoking. It also wants an outright ban on advertising.
Activists have accused the United States, Japan and Germany, home to some of the world's largest tobacco companies, of being the major stumbling blocks to a tougher accord.
The WHO last week revised its annual death toll for smoking related diseases to 4.9 million people from 4.2 million in part because of better research into cardiovascular disease in developing countries including China and India.