|Press Release WHA/14
24 May 1999
WORLD HEALTH ASSEMBLY PAVES WAY FOR FRAMEWORK CONVENTION ON TOBACCO CONTROL
Assembly also approves delay in destruction of smallpox virus, Revised Drug Strategy and support for Roll Back Malaria
The World Health Assembly (WHA), the governing body of the World Health Organization (WHO), today paved the way for multilateral negotiations to begin on a set of rules and regulations that will govern the global rise and spread of tobacco and tobacco products in the next century.
The 191-member WHA unanimously backed a resolution calling for work to begin on the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) a new legal instrument that will address issues as diverse as tobacco advertising and promotion, agricultural diversification, smuggling, taxes and subsidies.
A record 50 nations took the floor to pledge financial and political support for the Convention. The list included the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, major tobacco growers and exporters as well as several countries in the developing and developed world which face the brunt of the tobacco industry's marketing and promotion pitch.
This is the first time in its 50-year history that WHO is exercising its constitutional mandate to negotiate a Convention. When ready, the FCTC will be the world's first global tobacco control treaty. ''It seems only right that we focus on tobacco at the turn of a century packed with achievements in science and medicine, tobacco stands out as an area of appalling neglect,'' said WHO Director-General Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland.
A FCTC working group will soon begin work on proposed draft elements of the FCTC, thereby paving the road for formal negotiations to commence in about one year's time. WHO and its Member States plan to have the Convention process completed by 2003, after which it will be open for ratification.
Tobacco kills 4 million people per year. The Tobacco Free Initiative (TFI), WHO's tobacco control programme, estimates that if unchecked, this silent epidemic could kill 10 million people per year in the first quarter of the next century, over 70% of them in the developing world.
WHO hopes to reframe the tobacco issues in a such a way as to show that far from, and in addition to, being a debilitating personal habit, tobacco contributes to a public health disaster exacerbated by tobacco industry practices that seek new markets and newer victims for a product that addicts before it kills. TFI officials say they hope their work will contribute to increased popular understanding and demands for comprehensive government regulation of tobacco.
The FCTC's benefits to WHO's Member States are many. The most significant one is that with the Convention as a pathfinder and co-ordination vehicle countries can contribute, incrementally, to the international legal instrument and incorporate the agreed norms into their national legislation. ''Tobacco is a global problem. The tobacco industry acts as a global force countries need to act together to counter this threat to public health,'' said Dr Derek Yach, head of TFI.
The process of developing and adopting the FCTC and related protocols will help mobilize national and international technical and financial support for tobacco control, raise global awareness about the unnecessary burden of disease brought about by tobacco use and spread and hold up mirrors to the tobacco industry's practices.
Smallpox, Revised Drug Strategy, Roll Back Malaria
In its plenary session on 24 May, the WHA also gave final approval to three draft resolutions which WHA committees had passed late last week.
The WHA voted to delay destruction of the remaining known stocks of smallpox virus, committing to review the situation by 2002 at the latest (see Press Release WHA/11 for more details).
The Revised Drug Strategy also got the green light from the WHA. Thorny issues related top trade and pharmaceuticals drew intense focus, although there was broad consensus that access to essential drugs, now denied to a third of the world's population, had to be increased. In another resolution, the WHA approved WHO's new programme for combating malaria, Roll Back Malaria.
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