United States Seeks Changes to WHO Tobacco Treaty To Allow Opting Out of Provisions
The United States is unlikely to sign the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a U.N. treaty designed to curtail tobacco use worldwide, unless nations are allowed to opt out of "objectionable" provisions, the Bush administration has told the World Health Organization, the Washington Post reports (Kaufman, Washington Post, 4/30). On March 1, more than 170 nations adopted a draft text of the treaty, which has been under negotiation for four years (Sherman, AP/Boston Globe, 4/30). The accord, which will be voted on at the WHO's annual conference in Geneva that begins May 19, would ban advertising and promoting tobacco products even in countries where the practices are legal. Under the treaty, tobacco companies would also have to disclose all the ingredients in cigarettes, print advisory labels that cover no less than 30% of the cigarette package and refrain from using terms such as "ultra light" or "light." The treaty would also levy high taxes on tobacco products (California Healthline, 2/28). The treaty does not allow nations to opt out of individual clauses, also known as taking reservations. The Bush administration wants the ban removed because it says some of the clauses may violate the U.S. constitution by infringing upon tobacco companies' freedom of speech and state governments' authority. According to the AP/Globe, a diplomatic note on the U.S. position implies the administration will not sign the treaty without changes, but HHS spokesperson Bill Pierce said a final decision has not been made (AP/Boston Globe, 4/30). The United States and the Dominican Republic are the only nations that have objected to the treaty since its draft approval last month (Washington Post, 4/30).
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) sent a letter Friday urging the Bush administration "not to weaken" the treaty and accusing the administration of "inappropriately" lobbying other countries to alter the agreement, CongressDaily reports (CongressDaily, 4/28). Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) also wrote President Bush on Monday, urging him to sign the treaty in its current form, adding that reservations to the treaty would "undermine its effectiveness" because "[t]here would be no guarantee that any of the public health standards would apply equally around the globe" (AP/Boston Globe, 4/30). Belgian negotiator Luk Joossens said that "crucial aspects of the entire effort" would be weakened by reservations. He added, "I think it is impossible to reach a consensus, and this could easily be the end of the entire tobacco convention. ... There is a lot of anger in so many countries about this American action" (Washington Post, 4/30).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.