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Last Updated:  Saturday, 1 March, 2003, 09:32 GMT
Anti-tobacco treaty agreed
By Imogen Foulkes
BBC correspondent in Berne

In Geneva, delegates to the World Health Organisation have agreed on the wording of the world's first-ever anti-smoking treaty.

After long and often acrimonious negotiations, representatives of more than 170 countries agreed on the framework convention on tobacco control, which will impose restrictions on the advertising and marketing of tobacco.

The WHO is hailing the agreement as a ground-breaking moment for public health.

Iraqi Kurd smoker, northern Iraq
Smoking kills five million people a year
But a compromise on a complete advertising ban means the treaty is not quite as strong as some health organisations would have liked.

It has taken weeks of difficult, often tense negotiations to reach this agreement. It was finally hammered out in the middle of the night after the deadline for ending the negotiations was extended again and again.

The delays arose because some countries with big tobacco industries - most notably the United States and Germany - opposed a global ban on tobacco advertising, saying it violated their constitutional right to free speech.

Here, the treaty has been watered down somewhat. The final wording says countries should impose an advertising ban, but in accordance with their constitutional principles.

Weakened ban

Despite the compromise, the WHO is regarding the agreement as an important victory for global public health:

  • Warnings, including graphic pictures of diseased lungs, will now take up a third of the space on cigarette packaging

  • There will be restrictions on terms such as mild and low-tar

  • Public health will be given priority in any conflict between health measures and trade agreements

  • Signatory states will devote more funds to national anti-smoking programmes and will tax and price tobacco with a view to reducing consumption

The WHO estimates that smoking kills five million people a year and that 70% of future tobacco-related deaths will come from the developing world.

Poorer countries pushed hard for a strict anti-smoking treaty, and their delegates at the WHO will be pleased that much of what they asked for remains in the final wording, despite the weakened advertising ban.

The treaty is due to be adopted by the WHO's annual assembly in May. But health activists warn the convention, like all such international agreements, is only as strong as the countries which sign it.

The anti-tobacco words in the treaty must now be translated into anti-tobacco actions.

The BBC's Imogen Foullkes
"The WHO is regarding the agreement as an important victory for global public health"

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