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Anti-tobacco convention adopted in Geneva

The convention will impose restrictions on smoking in public places Keystone

The first international treaty on curbing tobacco use has been adopted by 192 countries in Geneva.

It was concluded during a session of the World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO), which is also focusing on the fight against the Sars pneumonia virus.

The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control aims to curb cancer and chronic heart disease by limiting the advertising, promotion, sale and smuggling of tobacco products.

It will come into effect once it has been ratified by 40 countries.

“Today, we are acting to save billions of lives and protect people’s health for generations to come,” the outgoing head of the WHO, Gro Harlem Brundtland, told delegates on Wednesday.

“It is an historic moment in global public health, demonstrating the international will to tackle health head on,” she said.

The WHO estimates that tobacco kills almost five million people around the world each year – a figure that is expected to double over the next two decades.


Claudio Rollini of British American Tobacco Switzerland said the tobacco industry was angry that the WHO had not consulted it while preparing the convention.

“WHO never took into account our views and they always refused to enter into dialogue with us,” he told swissinfo.

Rollini also took issue with the proposed limitations on tobacco advertising.

“We want the right to communicate with adult smokers,” he said, adding that the industry was already imposing “self-restrictions” to avoid targeting young people with its advertising.

Tough on tobacco

Over 8,000 tobacco-related deaths are reported annually in Switzerland, which has one of the least stringent tobacco control regimes in the developed world and one of the highest rates of per capita tobacco consumption in Europe.

The Federal Health Office said it expected the government to ratify the convention.

Director Thomas Zeltner went even further, arguing tobacco products should be put on the list of dangerous products, alongside weapons and drugs.

“SFr20 million of taxpayers’ money is spent on subsidising the tobacco industry in Switzerland,” Zeltner told swissinfo.

“On the other hand, SFr20 million is spent by the government on anti-smoking campaigns.”

The head of the Federal Health Office’s unit for substance abuse and HIV, Chung Yol Lee, told swissinfo that a new law protecting non-smokers should be introduced in Switzerland.

“Current regulations only concern smoking at the workplace,” he said.

“The Swiss parliament needs to decide to either restrict or completely forbid smoking in public places.”

Health warning

One of the areas targeted by the convention is the health warning labels on cigarette packets. In future these should cover 50 per cent of the packaging and the terms “mild” and “light” will be outlawed.

The UN convention is also pushing governments to levy higher taxes on tobacco products.

WHO wants to see prohibitions on selling cigarettes to minors introduced around the world.

But the treaty will not be legally binding – if an individual country does not toughen up its laws on cigarette ads, the UN agency can only request the non-abiding government to follow the international convention.

The United States had been the biggest opponent to the convention, but withdrew its objections last weekend.

It is expected that the initial signatories will be able to ratify the convention within two years, giving the UN scope to police the tougher measures around the world.

swissinfo, Tania Peitzker

WHO says tobacco kills 4.9 million people a year.
In Switzerland, almost 30 per cent of the population are smokers.
Between 1992 and 1997, the number of girls who smoked more than doubled.
In Switzerland, half a million people try to give up smoking every year, but fewer than one in 20 succeed.
Last September, Switzerland introduced a higher tax on cigarettes.

Health ministers and officials from the World Health Organization’s 192 member states are meeting in Geneva for the 56th annual session of the World Health Assembly.

On Wednesday they adopted a global treaty aimed at curbing tobacco use.

The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control aims to curb cancer and chronic heart disease by limiting the advertising, promotion, sale and smuggling of tobacco products.

The other main topic under discussion is the fight against Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars).

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR