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WHO Approves Convention on Tobacco Control

Negotiators from more than 170 countries have agreed on a tough pact against smoking, including bans or restrictions on advertising and pledges to raise tobacco taxes. Members of the World Health Organization approved the final text of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Saturday in Geneva.

The agreement seeks to tackle the most serious consequences of tobacco use and exposure to smoke with a variety of measures. These include a halt to tobacco advertising and sponsorship within five years or, where an outright ban is not possible, restrictions on advertising. The pact also calls for a crackdown on smuggling and a ban on cigarette sales to minors.

The proposed treaty says the spread of the tobacco epidemic is a global problem with serious consequences for public health, and it calls for an effective and comprehensive international response.

Many of the agreement's polices already apply in rich countries. However, for much of the developing world, where tobacco-related deaths are set to surge, the agreement marks the first global attempt to fight what the World Health Organization says is the biggest cause of premature death.

According to the WHO, 4.9 million people a year currently die from cancer, cardiovascular disease and other illnesses related to smoking. That could stand at 10 million per year by 2020. 70 percent of the victims will be in developing countries.

WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland hailed the pact as a milestone in the history of global public health. European Union Health Commissioner David Byrne says it is a major breakthrough in the fight against the tobacco epidemic. He says the tide has turned in the battle to empower citizens to live healthy lives free from the scourge of tobacco.

The pact will come into force once 40 signatory states have formally ratified it.

The United States objected to parts of the agreement, particularly a section requiring manufacturers to put a health warning label that would cover at least 30 percent of a pack of cigarettes. The United States is home to the world's largest tobacco exporter, Philip Morris.