As deadline nears, countries struggle to finalize text on UN tobacco accord

As deadline nears, countries struggle to finalize text on UN tobacco accord

With reports that smoking kills nearly five million people every year fuelling public debate over tobacco regulations and advertising, all eyes are on Geneva, where final negotiations are drawing to a close on a United Nations-backed treaty aimed at curbing the promotion, sales and smuggling of tobacco products.

A groundbreaking moment in public health history is just around the corner as the sixth and final round of negotiations for the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) are expected to close late this evening or early Saturday morning. The negotiations are expected to produce a final text that will be presented to the World Health Assembly in May.

The Convention - the first-ever under the auspices of the UN World Health Organization (WHO) - is part of a global strategy to reduce tobacco-related deaths and disease around the world. Without a coordinated international intervention, WHO predicts the number of deaths will rise to 10 million per year by 2020.

A key aspect of the negotiations is the issue of a total ban on tobacco advertising. The current text states that a complete ban on advertising should be the ultimate goal for signatories to the convention and encourages early elaboration of a supporting protocol on eliminating cross-border advertising and promotion.

Stressing the effectiveness of the convention's broad regulatory strategy just before the negotiations began two weeks ago, WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland said the agency supports an outright ban on tobacco advertising. "A big part of the solution to the tobacco epidemic lies in promoting 'stop-smoking' programmes, raising tobacco taxes, increasing education, banning tobacco advertising and cracking down on smuggling," she said.