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Activists Accuse Tobacco Industry of Undermining Global Treaty

Anti-tobacco campaigners accuse tobacco companies of undermining a global tobacco control treaty and national policies based on it. They are urging delegates attending a World Health Organization conference on strengthening the implementation of the treaty to resist pressure from the industry.

Anti-tobacco activists say the World Health Organization's Global Tobacco Control Treaty owes much of its success to strong leadership from developing countries. They note that 122 countries, representing more than 70 percent of the world's population have ratified the treaty. Many of these countries already have changed their legislation to reflect tougher policies against smoking.

For example, a representative of the U.S.-based Corporate Accountability International, Kathryn Mulvey, says countries such as India and Thailand have introduced effective, comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

"At the same time, throughout the treaty negotiations, the tobacco giants - Philip Morris/Altria based in the U.S., British American Tobacco based in the U.K. and Japan Tobacco - have really fought the treaty's negotiation and now are engaging in tactics all over the world from Nigeria to Mexico and other places in Latin America in an attempt to interfere in the treaty's implementation," she said.

Akinbode Oluwafemi of Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria says tobacco lobbyists try to undermine implementation of the treaty by bribing politicians and journalist.

"They have also arranged holidays for parliamentarians. They have tried very well to bribe people in the media. They have sponsored programs for journalists. You know awards for journalists where you win computers. And, let me tell you that a laptop is a big award for journalists in developing countries…You know the media helps a lot to mobilize public support, public agenda for tobacco control and they use this indirectly to get at the media to shift the debate," he said.

Despite this Oluwafemi says Nigeria ratified the treaty at the end of October, bringing the number of African countries to have done so to 26.

Representatives of the tobacco industry are not attending the conference and have not been available for comment.

The World Health Organization reports an estimated five million people a year die prematurely from tobacco-related illnesses. It predicts tobacco will claim 10 million lives a year by 2030 if current smoking trends continue.

The two-week meeting in Geneva aims to strengthen the provisions of the treaty. It also seeks financing to help poor countries implement the treaty. A major concern is to help rural farmers who depend on tobacco cultivation for their livelihoods shift to other crops.