October 10, 2000
Negotiations Begin on Global Treaty on Tobacco
(Ottawa) - In the time it takes to read this paragraph, one person is killed by tobacco use. In the time it takes to fly from Ottawa to Geneva, more than 3,000 people around the world die from tobacco-related disease.
This week, representatives from Health Canada, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and non-governmental agencies will travel to Geneva as negotiations begin on the first global treaty on tobacco. They will be joining diplomats and citizens from over 150 nations who are gathering at the World Health Organization (WHO) to develop a Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
Tobacco, which is already the major cause of preventable death in the developed world, will become the greatest cause of premature death in the developing world by 2030 - outstripping the combined death toll of malaria, AIDS, tuberculosis and complications from childbirth.
"Tobacco is an international health problem that demands an international health solution," said Dr. Elinor Wilson of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. "Already 4 million people die each year as a direct result from smoking - within my lifetime that number will jump to over 10 million a year." Dr. Wilson will present a joint submission of Canadian health agencies during the WHO's public hearings on the convention on October 12-13.
"To reduce smoking, we need a comprehensive set of strategies - including high taxes, bans on advertising, persuasive public education and support for quitting," said Dr. Wilson "A tobacco treaty can improve global public health by requiring governments to meet basic standards for these measures. She explained that an equally important goal for the treaty was to implement measures which national governments cannot achieve alone.
"We have identified six key areas which are best addressed through international collaboration," explained Francis Thompson of the Non-Smoker's Health Association "and are urging governments to agree to effective obligations in these areas." The health groups' submission calls for measures to ban cross-border advertising, to curb smuggling, to ban duty-free sales of cigarettes, to protect domestic law from challenge under trade agreements, to support tobacco control in the developing world, and to establish international surveillance.
Neil Collishaw spoke optimistically about the potential of the Framework Convention to minimize the risks posed to public health by other international agreements (like WTO agreements and NAFTA). "American tobacco companies were able to use trade agreements to force open access to Asian markets, and to threaten retaliation for plain packaging in Canada," said Mr. Collishaw. "This treaty will be able to clarify that governments want a rules-based global economy to protect public health, not tobacco companies." Mr. Collishaw will represent Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada in Geneva during the public hearings on the FCTC.
All the agencies praised Health Canada for its work in recent years to develop the treaty proposal.
"I am very encouraged by the value that the government of Canada has placed on the framework convention and on the participation of non-governmental agencies towards its development," said Rob Cunningham of the Canadian Cancer Society. "Health Canada was one of the earliest supporters of the framework convention, nurturing it from concept to proposal. As this initiative moves towards reality, Health Canada continues to show leadership by advocating the presence and participation of civil society at all levels of discussion." Mr. Cunningham will join negotiators in Geneva as a member of the Canadian delegation. Canada is one of only a handful of countries which have included non-governmental agencies in their negotiating delegations.
The public hearings take place from 8:00 am-8:00 pm, Central European Time on October 12 and 13th and will be broadcast on the WHO web-site at (http://www.who.int/genevahearings/live.html). The formal negotiations on the FCTC take place in Geneva from October 16 to 21st. Negotiations are expected to result in a signed treaty no later than 2003.
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Canadian Cancer Society
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Non-Smokers' Rights Association
Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada