by Barbara Litzlbeck
(IPS) UNITED NATIONS, -- The United States has missed the deadline to ratify a global treaty regulating tobacco in time to vote at a key tobacco conference in Geneva next February.
Governments had to submit their ratification documents at the UN headquarters in New York by Nov. 8 in order to take part in the UN's Conference of Parties gathering, which will discuss how to implement and enforce the world's first global health treaty.
The last 12 ratifications in the final days before the deadline came from Barbados, Benin, Brazil, Bulgaria, Central African Republic, Ireland, Namibia, Pakistan, Portugal, Saint Lucia, Samoa, and the United Arab Emirates.
Formally known as the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), the treaty imposes restrictions on tobacco advertising, sponsorship and promotion. It also obligates parties to protect their national public health policies from interference by the tobacco industry and encourages international cooperation to hold tobacco corporations liable for the harm their products cause.
The treaty, which entered into force on Feb. 27, 2005, has been ratified by 110 countries so far, including Brazil, China, South Africa and India. The U.S. is one of the 168 countries that have signed the treaty but not yet ratified it. After signing the treaty in 2004, the U.S. government failed to submit the treaty to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for approval.
The U.S. faces sharp criticism from non-governmental organizations, which accuse the tobacco industry of lobbying Washington to delay action on the treaty. One is the Framework Convention Alliance for Tobacco Control, which represents more than 200 NGOs in 80 countries fighting for implementation of the treaty.
"U.S.-based tobacco companies, in particular Philip Morris, donate millions of dollars to political campaigns. Most of the money goes to the Republican Party, which controls the presidency and the Senate," Chris Bostic, a lawyer with the Alliance, told IPS.
"The Bush administration is very pro-business in general and sees the FCTC in terms of money, not health," he said.
According to the American Lung Association, nearly 6,000 children in the United States try cigarettes each day. Of those, 2,000 will become regular smokers. About 4.5 million U.S. adolescents are currently smoking.
The United States is also the world's leading exporter of tobacco products.
Although the U.S. will not officially participate at the first conference, Bostic predicts that it will still try to affect the outcome. "Much of the real diplomacy goes on in the hallways and in informal meetings, so the U.S. will definitely still have an influence," he said.
Corporate Accountability International, a Boston-based advocacy group, says that the tobacco industry is lobbying against the treaty worldwide. "Philip Morris/Altria and British American Tobacco (BAT) have been caught trying to derail the treaty ratification process on every continent," Kathryn Mulvey, the group's executive director, told IPS.
"In Guatemala, Philip Morris/Altria has lobbied for legislation that would create obstacles for implementation of the global tobacco treaty. In Nigeria, BAT has offered cash prizes to journalists who deride the treaty and write tobacco-friendly articles," she said.
Thailand is a success story in reducing tobacco addiction by banning advertising. In 1992, Thailand implemented tough new rules, and by 2001 tobacco addiction rates had declined by more than 20 percent.
Philip Morris/Altria tried for years to undermine tobacco control policies in the country, lobbying and sending letters to key government decision-makers like the public health minister and the chair of the Senate Health Committee. Together with British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International and the Thailand tobacco monopoly, they threatened to sue the Thai Ministry of Public Health for implementing the law.
Tobacco consumption has been a growing concern, killing about 5 million people each year. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that the economic costs of tobacco use are devastating.
"In addition to the high public health costs of treating tobacco-caused diseases, tobacco kills people at the height of their productivity, depriving families of breadwinners and nations of a healthy workforce. Tobacco users are also less productive while they are alive due to increased sickness," the WHO said in a statement.
Poor people bear the heaviest economic burden. The WHO estimates that many families in developing countries spend as much as 10 percent of total household income on tobacco.
"Obviously, a poor family in a developing country that buys cigarettes cannot use that money on food, housing or health care," Bostic told IPS.
In addition to the direct health effects, tobacco can lead to malnutrition and increased health care costs.
"If current trends continue, developing countries will bear 70 percent of the tobacco epidemic by 2030. The same developing countries that have been aggressively targeted by tobacco corporations as expansions markets have the most to lose," Mulvey said.
November 9, 2005 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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