United States Signs World Health Organization Tobacco Control Treaty
HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson on Monday signed the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the Washington Post reports (Kaufman, Washington Post, 5/12). The United States became the 108th nation to sign the treaty (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 5/11). The treaty would ban the advertisement and promotion tobacco products, even in nations in which the practices are legal. Under the treaty, tobacco companies would have to disclose ingredients in cigarettes, print advisory labels that cover no less than 30% of cigarette packages and no longer use terms such as "ultra light" or "light." The treaty also would impose high taxes on tobacco products (American Health Line, 5/21/03). The treaty will remain open for signature by other nations until June 29. The treaty will not take effect until 40 nations have ratified the agreement; to date, nine nations have ratified the treaty (HHS release, 5/11). HHS spokesperson Bill Pierce said that the department has no schedule for when they will submit the treaty to the Senate for ratification. "Signing the treaty does not commit the United States to any changes in its tobacco policies, although it does require the government not to undermine the agreement," and "ratifying the treaty would not significantly change how tobacco is regulated" in the United States unless Congress passes the legislation recommended or required by the agreement, the Post reports (Washington Post, 5/12).
In a statement, Thompson said, "The United States has long been a world leader in anti-smoking efforts," adding, "We have committed more resources than any other country to the research, development and evaluation of smoking control and cessation programs, both at home and abroad. President Bush and I look forward to working with WHO and other member nations to implement this agreement" (HHS release, 5/11). Officials for the American Medical Association said, "Tobacco now kills some five million people each year. Without this new international treaty, that number could climb to 10 million deaths a year." However, some anti-tobacco advocates raised concerns that the Bush administration will not "push for ratification" of the treaty, the Post reports. WHO is scheduled to finalize and implement the treaty in a meeting in New York City in June, and some anti-tobacco advocates maintain that the Bush administration signed the agreement to ensure participation in the meeting. "What will be critical to watch is whether the United States contributes constructively to those negotiations," Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said. Mark Berlind, a vice president at Altria Group, parent company of Philip Morris USA, said that the company supports the treaty. However, Seth Moskowitz, a spokesperson for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, called the treaty unnecessary because the "government already has ample authority to regulate the industry" (Washington Post, 5/12). NPR's "Morning Edition" on Wednesday reported on the decision by the United States to sign the treaty. The segment includes comments from Dr. Michael Eriksen, director of the Institute of Public Health at Georgia State University and former director of the Office on Smoking and Health at CDC; Kathryn Mulvey, executive director of the corporate accountability organization Infact; and Pierce (Elliott, "Morning Edition," NPR, 5/12). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.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.