TOBACCO: Countries Plan Restrictions At WHO Meeting
Meeting last week in Geneva, Switzerland, officials from 150 countries "laid the groundwork" for a new global treaty targeted at reducing the sale and use of tobacco products, the New York Times reports. The World Health Organization, which hosted the meetings, advocates that an international agreement be signed by 2003 that would ban multinational tobacco companies from advertising and sponsoring sporting events, increase taxes on cigarettes, reduce the smuggling of cigarettes and reduce the number of teen smokers. "During the six-day opening negotiations," most of the countries agreed to the advertising and sponsorship ban, but the United States negotiator, Thomas Novotny of HHS, said, "We stop short of supporting a complete plan," citing issues of free speech protections. A "blanket ban" is also subject to free trade regulations, as the European Court of Justice ruled earlier this month that the European Union's proposal to ban tobacco advertising illegally "blocked free movement of goods and services." The American Lung Association praised the United States for supporting measures to limit smoking in public.
Despite "the atmosphere of unexpected harmony" at the session, tobacco-growing countries want to know if they will receive financial help "while they wean their economies" off of tobacco profits. The United States and Canada offered "bilateral and voluntary funding," as opposed to the "global fund with mandatory assessments" that some poor countries advocate. In addition, Celso Amorim, chair of the meeting and representative from tobacco-exporting Brazil, said further discussion was needed on how to reduce the incidence of tobacco smuggling. In addition, antitobacco activists are concerned that the consensus reached in Geneva "might be eroded once officials faced lobbying by well- funded tobacco forces" (Olson, New York Times, 10/22).