Landmark UN tobacco-control treaty comes into force on Sunday

24 February 2005

The United Nations global treaty to curb tobacco use, which now claims nearly 5 million lives a year and causes an estimated annual net loss of $200 billion in treatment and lost productivity, comes into force on Sunday with a host of tools to clamp down on the world's leading cause of preventable deaths.

The World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) requires parties to the accord to restrict tobacco advertising, sponsorship and promotion, set new labelling and clean indoor air controls, and strengthen laws against tobacco smuggling. Already 57 countries have become party to the landmark treaty, representing 2.3 billion people.

"I encourage all countries to become party to this treaty, and to implement the range of measures which will make tobacco use less and less attractive to people," WHO Director-General Lee Jong-wook said ahead of Sunday's deadline for the first 40 countries that became contracting parties before 30 November 2004. The other 17 became parties since then.

If current trends are not reversed, tobacco will prematurely end the lives of 10 million people a year by 2020, WHO said. It is the only legal product that causes the death of one half of its regular users. This means that of the current 1.3 billion smokers, 650 million people will die prematurely due to tobacco.

With its entry into force, countries party to the treaty are bound to translate its general provisions into national laws and regulations. They will have, for example, three years to ensure that tobacco packaging has strong health warnings, or five years to establish comprehensive advertising, promotion and sponsorship bans.

"Many countries have already put these measures in place," said Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, Director of WHO's Tobacco Free Initiative. "The difference for global tobacco control is that countries party to the Convention will be able to implement these and other measures, especially those with cross-border implications, in a coordinated and standardized way. This will leave fewer loopholes for the tobacco industry, which currently finds ways to circumvent national laws."

Evidence shows that smoking harms nearly every organ of the body. Tobacco use is the cause of the majority of lung cancer cases and it has been linked to many other types of cancer, such as cervical and kidney cancer. Other health risks associated with tobacco include heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular diseases; bronchitis, asthma and other respiratory diseases as well as infertility.

Tobacco use continues to expand, especially in the developing world, where currently half of the deaths due to tobacco occur. If current trends continue, seven out of every ten deaths due to tobacco will occur in the developing world by 2020.

 

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