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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 May, 2003, 12:50 GMT 13:50 UK
Q&A: Anti-smoking treaty
An unprecedented, far-reaching international treaty designed to combat tobacco use around the globe has been unanimously adopted by the World Health Assembly, meeting in Geneva. BBC News Online examines the key issues.

What is the treaty intended to do?

The pact, which took years of negotiations, requires countries to ban or impose tough restrictions on tobacco advertising, sponsorship and promotion within five years.

It also lays down guidelines on health warnings to be carried on cigarette packets, recommends tax increases on tobacco products and calls for a crackdown on cigarette smuggling, amongst other measures.

It encourages countries to pass laws holding the tobacco industry to account for medical and other costs.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says the pact is important because tobacco-related deaths are running at five million a year.

What will happen next?

More than 190 countries have adopted the treaty, but each nation must now decide whether to ratify it.

Governments have a year to decide whether to ratify the treaty, but only 40 ratifications are needed for the treaty to come into force.

WHO officials say they believe they can achieve the required number of ratifications in eight to 12 months.

Once the treaty is adopted, the nations that support it will begin additional international meetings to work out details of how to implement it.

Much work now lies ahead in trying to put the terms of the convention into practice, especially in developing countries which have only weak domestic legislation and which are expected to account for 70% of the forecast 10 million annual deaths by 2030.

Officials have warned that even after it had come into force, the treaty would take time to make a significant impact on the world's more than one billion smokers.

Who is the treaty aimed at?

It is aimed mainly at much of the developing world, where deaths from tobacco-related disease are set to surge.

WHO says smoking is declining in countries that have increasingly curbed advertising and sponsorship over the years. But it says tobacco companies have moved their activities into the developing world and, in many cases, smoking is on the increase as a result.

Young people appear to be the most vulnerable. A recent WHO survey indicates that Russia, Ukraine, Bolivia and Chile are experiencing massive tobacco-related problems - with more than 30% of 13-15-year-olds smoking. It says Nigeria, South Africa, Poland and Mexico are not far behind.

Will it be ratified by many countries?

WHO and anti-smoking groups says there is a lot of drive and commitment from countries that have the most at stake, such as developing countries.

But, they say they expect that the tobacco industry will try to fight the implementation of the convention.

There is no guarantee that the US and Germany - both home to powerful tobacco companies - will sign up. Both had initially lobbied for changes to the text of the treaty, arguing that advertising restrictions ran counter to the freedoms guaranteed by their constitutions. But, ahead of the WHA meeting, they decided against pushing for a change.

America already has some of the toughest anti-smoking laws in the world. International lobby group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) says it would not be a problem if they refused to ratify the treaty because so many other countries have said they will back it.

How far-reaching is the treaty?

Anti-tobacco activists say that some of the treaty's provisions were watered down after pressure from the US and Germany - in particular the fact that it does not call for a total ban on tobacco advertising.

However, they say it is still significant because of the emphasis on countries doing what they can to curb advertising. The treaty bans advertising unless a country has a constitution that protects commercial free speech, in which case it must still stifle it as far as its constitution allows.

Can the treaty work?

The Tobacco Manufacturers Association in the UK has said that the treaty will not reduce smoking. It says that the intention of the advertisers is to compete for market share and to maintain awareness of premium brands, not to encourage people to start smoking.

Is WHO looking at any other areas of global public heath?

The organisation is particularly interested in levels of obesity in rich and poor countries arguing that it leads to health problems such as diabetes, heart problems and cancer.

WHO, along with the Food and Agriculture Organisation, another branch of the United Nations, is conducting a scientific review into the combination of the consumption of certain fatty, processed foods and a lack of exercise.

It will include discussions with governments, lobby groups and corporations. Analysts say it is intended to culminate in a global "strategy" on diet, physical activity and health next year. This could include recommendations on how certain foods should be labelled and advertised.


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