Group Urges Congress to Ratify Global Tobacco Treaty

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:21pm EDT

( - The American Lung Association is urging the Bush administration to quickly submit to Congress a global tobacco treaty that was signed by Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson on behalf of the U.S. government.

The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which is designed to curb illness and death caused by tobacco use, is the first-ever global public health treaty negotiated under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO).

"Signing the treaty is good public relations; ratifying it will be good public health," said John L. Kirkwood, president and CEO of the American Lung Association, in a statement. "Merely signing it without Senate ratification is a hollow victory."

"The United States has long been a world leader in anti-smoking efforts," Thompson said.

"We have committed more resources than any other country to the research, development and evaluation of smoking control and cessation programs, both at home and abroad. President Bush and I look forward to working with the WHO and other member nations to implement this agreement," he added.

The treaty contains among other things a strong U.S.-drafted provision against tobacco smuggling, which could help prevent illicit trade in tobacco.

Other key provisions of the treaty ban tobacco advertising and promotion unless constitutional barriers exist, limit public exposure to secondhand smoke and require health warning labels on cigarette packages to cover at least 30 percent of the display area.

It also prohibits false, misleading and deceptive language - like "low tar," "light," or "mild" - that may imply the product is less harmful.

So far, the U.S. has made progress in reducing death and disease caused by tobacco use, as well as in diminishing use, especially among children. Youth smoking rates have dropped dramatically from 18.9 percent in the mid-1990s to 13 percent in 2002.

Tobacco-related illness, however, is still the leading preventable cause of death among adults in the U.S.

"By signing AND ratifying the treaty, the U.S. government will show the world that this country is serious about protecting people everywhere from the ravages of tobacco use," said Kirkwood.

To date, 108 countries have signed the treaty, but only 12 have ratified it. For the treaty to take effect, it must be ratified by 40 nations.

"For far too long, the tobacco industry has targeted the developing world for new markets to sell their lethal products. The treaty provides new tools to protect the public, especially the world's children, from tobacco addiction, disease and death," Kirkwood said.

"The American Lung Association will continue to press the Administration to back up its signature of the treaty with a strong push for Senate ratification. One without the other holds little meaning," he said.

The U.S., with HHS as the lead agency, actively participated throughout the drafting process and negotiations to help achieve a strong and effective instrument for global tobacco control. The World Health Assembly adopted the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in May 2003.

The U.S. is the 108th nation to sign the treaty. The treaty is open for signature until June 29.b

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