The World Health Organization, WHO, says it believes the world's first tobacco control treaty has solid support and will be adopted largely intact despite efforts by the United States to amend it. The so-called Framework Convention on Tobacco Control will be presented for adoption to the 190-member World Health Assembly, which begins its annual session in Geneva next week.
More than 170 countries approved the draft text of the tobacco control treaty in March. The Head of WHO's non-communicable disease program, Derek Yach, says he cannot imagine that the draft will fail now, despite attempts by the United States to gather support for at least one amendment.
"The U.S. is currently engaged in a diplomatic exercise to see whether countries would support their view that there should be a reservation clause," he said.
The treaty contains a ban on reservations. The United States wants to overturn that ban to allow each country to approve the pact, but opt out of individual clauses which they do not like. Tobacco control advocates say such a clause would risk unraveling the whole treaty.
The United States says it needs the flexibility to reject some elements of the treaty, which could violate the U.S. Constitition's guarantee of free speech, and its separation of powers between the states and the federal government.
The proposed treaty would, among other things, impose global restrictions on advertising and labeling, and on marketing tobacco products to young people. It would also clamp down on smuggling and impose rules to protect non-smokers from tobacco smoke in public places.
The World Health Organization estimates that within two decades, 10 million people a year will die prematurely of tobacco-related causes if nothing is done. And, it says most of those deaths will occur in developing countries.
Dr. Yach says he does not think the treaty alone will change the situation. However, he says it is already inspiring some governments to strengthen their national laws. He says this has been the case with his own country, South Africa.
"The impact is that we are now seeing one of the fastest declines in consumption in the world in a poor or lower-middle income African country, the declines being in the order of five to six percent per annum which is faster than the declines of any developed countries recorded ever," he said. "The best being previously Canada, about two-point-two percent for the last decade and a half. It shows that the policies and the prescriptions in the Convention if applied will have a real impact on consumption."
WHO's Dr. Yach says it is conceivable that the treaty could end up saving more lives than any other previous agreement. The treaty will go into force after 40 countries have ratified it, a process Dr. Yach believes could be completed in a year and a half.