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Latin Health Leaders Agree on Anti-Tobacco Framework - 2001-11-09

Health officials from 19 Latin American countries have agreed on a joint framework of proposals aimed at curbing tobacco use. The officials reached the agreement Thursday, at the end of a four-day meeting in Rio de Janeiro.

It was the first meeting of Latin American delegates to discuss a proposed Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which is being negotiated by 191 nations under the auspices of the World Health Organization, or WHO.

The Latin American officials Thursday agreed on a series of recommendations, which they will present in Geneva later this month when the WHO holds a third round of multilateral negotiations on the proposed tobacco treaty.

Among the Latin American recommendations: the progressive prohibition of tobacco advertising, the increase of taxes and prices on tobacco products, creating no smoking areas for the protection of non-smokers, and measures to control contraband.

Rio Conference coordinator, Dr. Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva of the WHO, says the delegates made good progress in coming up with a regional position. "As this is the first time that the Latin American region meets to discuss the Framework Convention of Tobacco Control, it's a very important step because even though they don't have as strong a position as the African region, they have a much better position than they had before this meeting," she said.

But representatives of non-governmental organizations attending the Rio conference complain that the Latin American officials failed to adopt a strong enough position against tobacco. The regional coordinator for a network of anti-tobacco groups (Network for the Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals), Dr. Ricardo Navarro, says the delegates were more interested in achieving compromise than in controlling tobacco use. "We think that some of the discussions attempted to develop a framework convention that is kind of flexible, or balanced as they say," Dr. Navarro said. "We think that you cannot balance a position that is in favor of health and a position against health."

He said that while the Latin American delegates proposed a ban on tobacco advertising, they failed to set timelines for implementation.

But a Brazilian delegate, Tania Calvacanti, National Commission for Tobacco Control, rejected this, saying countries have to proceed on such bans in accordance with their constitutions. In some countries, she says, the constitutions consider such advertising bans as a violation of free speech, so governments can only move slowly in imposing restrictions.

The just-concluded Rio conference is part of a process which began two years ago to negotiate the Tobacco Control Convention. The WHO hopes member states will agree on a treaty in 2003 that will curb tobacco use.

The WHO says the diseases caused by tobacco kill an estimated 4.2 million people a year. It says 70 percent of them are in developing countries.