A Global Message
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By Lisa Seachrist Chiu

A Global Message

International tobacco treaty moves ahead without U.S.

By Lisa Seachrist Chiu


The global effort to slash tobacco use and the deaths resulting from it gained momentum in February when the World Health Organization (WHO) convened the first conference of the signing parties of its international tobacco treaty, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Representatives from 113 nations agreed to create working groups to address illicit trade practices and cross-border advertising for tobacco products. They also decided to develop guidelines to help countries establish smoke-free places and effective tobacco regulation, and they appointed a group of experts to study economically viable alternatives to tobacco growing and production.

Adopted unanimously by all 192 member states of the WHO in May 2003, the framework went into effect in February 2005, after 40 nations ratified the treaty. These countries incorporated its mandates for tobacco package labeling, smoke-free public spaces, advertising and sponsorship bans, and the elimination of tobacco smuggling into their own national law. Since then, 126 nations have become full parties. Absent from that list is the United States.

"The United States was once a real leader in tobacco control," says Matthew L. Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization. "Now a number of countries are making significant strides, and the U.S. is beginning to fall behind."

The U.S. signed the treaty in May 2004, but President Bush has yet to send it to the Senate for ratification. Jennifer Hall Godfrey, a spokeswoman for the State Department's Bureau of International Organization Affairs, says, "We're still going through the interagency review process, which is required before it can be sent to the Senate for ratification."

Myers calls the response "truly sad" and says the administration is "killing" the treaty through inaction. Godfrey, however, says the length of the process for this treaty is consistent with that of ratification of other treaties.

Without ratification, the U.S. has no vote on important treaty issues such as tobacco smuggling. "It would be a huge impulse to the process if the United States became a party to this convention," says Marta Seoane, a spokeswoman for the WHO's Tobacco Free Initiative.

Still, Myers believes that treaty participants may have benefited from the United States' lack of voting rights. "The fact that they didn't have to deal with the 800-pound gorilla meant they may have had a much easier time reaching consensus." cr endbox