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Tobacco control treaty enters crucial stage

Negotiators from 190 countries are meeting in Geneva to hammer out the final details of a global treaty designed to curb smoking.

Switzerland intends to sign the treaty despite lagging behind in introducing a strict tobacco control regime.

Over the next two weeks, negotiators are hoping to develop rules to limit the advertising, promotion, sale and smuggling of tobacco products.

They are considering a new text of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which proposes options culled from four years of discussions.

"Switzerland supports a strong FCTC," said Philippe Vallat, manager of the national tobacco control programme of the Federal Health Office.

Smoking kills

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that tobacco kills 4.9 million people per year.

"This is a critical moment for the negotiations," said WHO director-general, Gro Harlem Brundtland.

"The technical work is now complete. The time has come for all countries to show their determination about curbing the tobacco epidemic."

Switzerland 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.

However, Vallat said Switzerland was willing to sign the convention.

"As far as we know, all the points that the FCTC proposes are in line with the European Union and we intend to adapt our legislation to that of the EU, so there is no particular point of conflict for Switzerland," he told swissinfo.

Raising taxes

The FCTC recommends the global adoption of initiatives like Switzerland's National Tobacco Control Programme 2001-2005.

This includes measures like declaring the nicotine and tar content of cigarettes, restricting advertisements and raising taxes. However, many such controls have yet to be implemented.

The WHO believes that just raising taxes would have a dramatic effect on consumption - with a knock-on reduction in smoking-related deaths.

Vallat shares this view. "In Switzerland we have over 8,000 deaths every year and if we raise taxes, we would have 500 less," he said.

Difference of opinion

Many countries are calling for a strengthening of bans on advertising, robust rules to curb the smuggling of tobacco between and within countries and a rise in the price of cigarettes to prevent young people from taking up smoking.

However, differences remain between developing and developed countries over a number of procedural issues.

"There are more formal matters like should we have a strong convention which is pretty complete or should we have a broader convention and then adopt some protocols specific to some issues?" said Vallat.

A final round of negotiations is set for next February. The WHO hopes that the FCTC will be ready for adoption at its next session in May 2003.

"All the nations are pretty optimistic," commented Vallat. "A lot of work has been done since the last session."

swissinfo, Vincent Landon

Key facts

Negotiators from 190 countries are meeting to hammer out final details of a treaty designed to curb smoking.
The World Health Organization estimates that tobacco kills 4.9 million people per year.
Switzerland has one of the least stringent tobacco regimes in the developed world.

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