Officials gather in Geneva to strengthen UN treaty on tobacco control

6 February 2006

Officials from more than 110 nations gathered in Geneva today for a two-week conference meant to propel a United Nations global treaty closer toward its ultimate goal of saving lives as it curbs tobacco use among the world’s 1.3 billion smokers.

Representing three-quarters of the world’s population, the officials are meeting to decide on detailed measures that can further strengthen the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FTC). This is the first meeting of the Conference of the Parties, the governing body of the Treaty since it entered into force nearly one year ago.

Many of the countries joining this first COP session have already implemented some of the Treaty’s concrete measures. Ireland, Norway and Spain, for example, recently banned smoking in indoor public places while India has comprehensive tobacco advertising bans. Brazil, Canada, Thailand and Singapore now print graphic warnings on cigarette packages.

"This group has already changed history," said Dr. Lee Jong-wook, WHO Director-General said at the session. "The convention is something that we all committed to. Its provisions are bold. They are based on knowledge of what is effective. We will make it work."

As the second major cause of death in the world, tobacco now responsible for about 5 million deaths annually, according to WHO, which estimates that 84 per cent of the world’s 1.3 billion smokers live in developing and transitional economy countries.

The WHO Tobacco Free Initiative believes the most cost-effective strategies to curb tobacco consumption are population-wide public policies, like tobacco advertising bans, tobacco tax and price increases, smoke-free environments in all public and workplaces, and graphic health messages on tobacco packaging.

All of these measures are required under the Treaty’s provisions, including some with deadlines. For example, from the Treaty's entry into force, countries have three years to enforce health warnings on tobacco products and five years to implement comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

“This is a crucial time for people suffering the consequences of tobacco use,” said Dr. Yumiko Mochizuki-Kobayashi, Director of the WHO Tobacco Free Initiative. “Tobacco is still the top preventable cause of death. The goal is to see it fall from that position in our lifetime. With continued commitment from Member States, we will achieve that goal."

In another development on the health front, WHO and The Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, with a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, announced today in Geneva a joint project aimed at developing new diagnostic tests for human African trypanosomiasis, also known as sleeping sickness.

A major public health threat in sub-Saharan Africa, African sleeping sickness spreads among people bitten by the tsetse fly and is fatal unless treated. Because early-stage infection produces few symptoms, it is thought that only 10 per cent of patients with the disease are accurately diagnosed.


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