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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 May, 2003, 13:40 GMT 14:40 UK
Key anti-smoking treaty adopted
Iraqi Kurd smoker, northern Iraq
Poorer countries wanted a strict agreement
The World Health Organization (WHO) has unanimously adopted an anti-smoking treaty - the first global public health measure ever approved.

The aim of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is to reduce an estimated five million smoking-related deaths each year.

All 192 member states are now committed to strict curbs on the advertising, marketing and sale of tobacco products within five years.

At least one third of the space on cigarette packets will have to be devoted to health warnings, including pictures of diseased lungs.

Kills 4.9m people a year
Greater cause of death and disability than any single disease
Known or probable cause of approximately 25 diseases
Someone dies from tobacco use every eight seconds
Source: WHO

The adoption of the treaty is a triumph for the outgoing director general of the WHO, Gro Harlem Brundtland, who made tackling tobacco-related deaths a key issue during her time in office.

"Today we are acting to save billions of lives and protect people's health for generations to come. This is an historic moment," she said.

The BBC's Imogen Foulkes, at WHO headquarters in the Swiss city of Geneva, says the vote ends four years of sometimes acrimonious wrangling.

During this period, she says, countries with large tobacco industries - including the United States and Germany - initially opposed the treaty but finally gave their approval under strong pressure from developing nations.

It is important to take a global approach to anti-smoking efforts
Kym, The Netherlands

Health activists applauded the treaty saying it could prove a turning point in the fight against tobacco use.

But they warned that even after it had come into force, it would take time to make a significant impact on the world's 1.1 billion smokers.

Victims 'set to double'

The WHO, a United Nations agency, says that some 4.9 million people die each year from cancer, cardiovascular disease and other conditions linked to smoking.

If countries fail to adopt the measures of the convention, it says, the death toll is likely to exceed 10 million by 2020, with 70% of the victims in the developing world.

Many new smokers are young girls in the developing world, where levels of tobacco consumption are rising - in contrast to trends in some industrialised nations.

The convention will come into force once it is ratified by 40 countries.

Ms Brundtland, who decided not to seek a second five-year term at the helm of the WHO, is to be replaced by doctor Jong Wook Lee of South Korea, the organisation formally announced on Wednesday.

Members will vote on his candidacy at the assembly.

South Africa, one of the few developing countries with strong anti-tobacco laws, said it had been pressing for an even tougher treaty, particularly on financial aid for poorer states in implementing the pact.

"The convention is not for us an end in itself. It is a beginning," South Africa's Health Minister Mantombazana Tshabalala-Msimang told the assembly.

England's Chief Medical Office, Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, welcomed the treaty and said the UK had already introduced many of the measures it outlined.

"Today the world public health community has dealt a hammer blow to one of the biggest killers of modern times.

"As a result, over the decades ahead, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives will surely be saved."

In Brussels, EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne welcomed the adoption as an historic moment.

"Global problems need global partnerships and local solutions," he said in a statement.

"Armed with this convention we can move forward to make tobacco control a cornerstone of health and development."

The BBC's Emily Buchanan
"It had a four year bumpy ride"

Q&A: Anti-smoking treaty
21 May 03  |  Health
Anti-smoking treaty: Will it work?
21 May 03  |  Have Your Say
Anti-tobacco treaty agreed
01 Mar 03  |  Europe
Setback for anti-smoking treaty
28 Feb 03  |  Europe
EU adopts tobacco ad ban
02 Dec 02  |  Europe

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