Global Tobacco Control Treaty Unanimously Approved

GENEVA, Switzerland, May 21, 2003 (ENS) - Smokers who are frustrated by the exclusion of their burning tobacco from restaurants, offices and other buildings have more frustration in store. But non-smokers will appreciate the first global health treaty adopted today by the World Health Assembly that requires countries to set new tobacco labeling and clean indoor air controls.

The 192 countries that are members of the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) unanimously agreed to restrict tobacco advertising, sponsorship and promotion, and to strengthen legislation that will deter tobacco smuggling.

“Today, we are acting to save billions of lives and protect people’s health for generations to come. This is a historic moment in global public health, demonstrating the international will to tackle a threat to health head on,” WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland, told the 56th World Health Assembly meeting in Geneva.

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Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland took office as director-general of the World Health Organization on July 21, 1998. (Photo courtesy WHO)
Tobacco smoke contains nicotine, a drug that is addictive and can make it very hard, but not impossible, to quit. Smoking harms not just the smoker, health officials say, but also anyone else who breathes the smoker's cigarette smoke. Smoking increases the risk of lung cancer, other cancers, heart disease, stroke, other lung diseases, and other respiratory illnesses.

While smoking rates are declining in some industrialized countries, they are increasing, especially among the young, in many developing countries. These young smokers will account for over 70 percent of the projected death toll, WHO says.

“We must do our utmost to ensure that young people everywhere have the best opportunities for a healthy life. By signing, ratifying and acting on this tobacco convention, we can live up to this responsibility,” Brundtland said.

Now at least 40 WHO member countries must individually ratify the newly adopted Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in order for its provisions to take effect.

The Convention will be open for signature at WHO headquarters in Geneva from June 16 to 22 and thereafter at UN Headquarters in New York for one year from June 30 to June 29, 2004.

cigarette “Now we must see this Convention come into force as soon as possible, and countries must use it as the basis of their national tobacco control legislation,” said Brundtland, a physician who has served as prime minister of Norway and chair of the UN Commission on Environment and Development which popularized the term sustainable development.

The first international treaty negotiated under WHO auspices, the Convention has taken four years to finalize. Ambassador Luis Felipe Seixas de Corręa, the Brazilian diplomat who chaired the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body of the FCTC told the World Health Assembly, “Every country present in this room will testify to the challenges we faced as we worked on this final document. We now have to ensure the agreement we have reached will do what is intended to do – save lives and prevent disease."

The tobacco control treaty has been priority in Brundtland’s work to reverse the toll of tobacco related illnesses and deaths worldwide. She calls tobacco "a problem that cuts across national boundaries, cultures, societies and socio-economic strata."

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Smoky bars like this one are dangerous to the health of patrons. (Photo credit unknown)
WHO estimates that five million lives are lost to tobacco each year, a number that if left unchecked could reach 10 million by 2020.

Brundtland's vision of how the tobacco control treaty will work takes in all areas of governance that have a direct impact on public health. "Science and economics will mesh with legislation and litigation," she said. "Health ministers will work with their counterparts in finance, trade, labor, agriculture and social affairs ministries to give public health the place it deserves."

Brundtland is reaching the end of her five year term as head of the World Health Organization. She will step down on July 21 and will be replaced by South Korean physician Dr. Jong-Wook Lee elected today by the World Health Assembly. Dr. Lee is the first person from the Republic of Korea chosen to head a United Nations agency.

Lee has worked at WHO for 19 years in technical, managerial and policy positions, leading the fight against tuberculosis and vaccine preventable diseases of children.

In his speech to the assembly today, Dr. Lee said his priorities will be meeting the health targets of the Millennium Development Goals, shifting resources to serve countries more effectively, running WHO more efficiently, ensuring that WHO becomes more accountable, both financially and in its contribution to health outcomes, and strengthening human resources both inside WHO and within member countries.