Accessibility links

Interview with Matthew Myers, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids - 2003-05-21


The World Health Organization adopted a sweeping anti-tobacco treaty Wednesday aimed at reducing the number of smoking-related deaths worldwide. Joining VOA's David Borgida to talk about the treaty is Matthew Myers, President of the organization called Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

MR. BORGIDA
And joining us now to discuss all this, Matthew Myers, President of the organization called Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. And he is a nationally recognized tobacco control advocate. Mr. Myers, thanks for joining us.

MR. MYERS
Thanks for having me.

MR. BORGIDA
Four years I guess in the making, this treaty, but I think it's going to take quite some time -- they're estimating up to a year or perhaps longer -- to get it ratified by all the WHO member countries that have to ratify it. Can anything happen to reverse anything or is it now there and then it must be ratified by countries?

MR. MYERS
What happened today is an historic moment. This treaty really does provide a roadmap for perhaps one of the most fundamental public health changes we've seen. But we shouldn't underestimate the hard road ahead. The treaty first has to be signed and ratified by at least 40 nations, and then the really tough step -- implementing it -- mostly in developing nations, where the treaty can have its greatest impact.

MR. BORGIDA
So, 40 out of the 192 WHO members have to ratify that. Is that a challenge?

MR. MYERS
I don't think so. Today in Geneva, nation after nation stood up and said not only does it support the treaty but it intends to sign and ratify quickly. I think we will rapidly get to that number. As a matter of fact, I think we'll rapidly get to a much larger number. The real challenge is going to be to implement its provisions.

MR. BORGIDA
Explain that. Why?

MR. MYERS
This treaty calls for widespread change, particularly in the developing nations. It calls for a dramatic reduction in tobacco marketing, particularly aggressive marketing to adolescents and women. It calls for strong health warnings. It calls for cooperation to prevent the kind of smuggling that has made tobacco products easily available throughout the developing world. The tobacco industry is going to resist. This treaty is a real weapon for developing nations to avoid the kind of tobacco epidemic and plague that we've seen in our nation.

MR. BORGIDA
Now, I have to say that we invited a representative from the R.J. Reynolds Company, obviously a large tobacco concern, to appear on the program. They declined. But they did send us a statement, and it does talk about their concerns about the First Amendment and its protection of commercial free speech, trademark protection issues, and that sort of thing. There is a real concern, sir, that restrictions on advertising does inhibit their right to free speech and free advertising, doesn't it?

MR. MYERS
This treaty is very carefully drafted. What it provides for are restrictions on tobacco marketing, subject to each nation's constitution, but not over that. What it does mean is that the developing world will have the tools to stop the kind of aggressive marketing to kids that has made smoking so popular in our nation.

In most developing nations, very few children smoke. If we can stop the kind of marketing that has made tobacco imagery so attractive to young children, we can stop truly an epidemic. Current estimates are that the number of smokers worldwide will grow from 1.1 billion to 1.67 billion unless this treaty is fully implemented. The major public health benefit will be in the developing world.

MR. BORGIDA
Let me follow up on that. If I were a third generation family farmer in North Carolina making a living and supporting my children on the family farm and of course farming tobacco leaves, I would say that this is an unfair restriction in some way, inhibition, on my ability to make a living. What would you tell that farmer, Mr. Myers, if he was sitting right here?

MR. MYERS
The bad guy in this isn't the tobacco farmer. And the tobacco farmer isn't going to be hurt. The decline in tobacco use is going to be very gradual over a very long period of time. The real impact here is going to be saving the lives of young children around the world.

I've spent a lot of time with tobacco growers. They don't want their kids to smoke any more than you or I do. They're potentially partners in this effort. The real key here, however, is that unless we do something, 500 million people alive today will die from tobacco use. This treaty is an opportunity to avoid that tragedy.

MR. BORGIDA
How do you explain the cultural differences, the lifestyle differences, that you see particularly when you compare the United States and other countries, namely in Europe, where you do see many more people smoking, it would seem? Why is that?

MR. MYERS
Well, the United States is further advanced than many nations in reducing tobacco use, reducing the glamorization of tobacco use, and reducing the exposure to secondhand smoke. But I don't think it was a coincidence that the strongest proponents of this treaty were from the African nations, the Asians nations, and the nations of South America, who see this treaty as an opportunity to prevent their children from starting, and to prevent the tobacco industry from aggressively going after their women, who don't currently smoke.

MR. BORGIDA
The views of Matthew Myers, President of an organization called the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. We've enjoyed having you with us to comment on the treaty and your insight into smoking in general. Thank you, Mr. Myers.

MR. MYERS
Thank you for the opportunity of being here.

XS
SM
MD
LG