New WHO Director-General urges countries to sign Tobacco Convention
Helsinki, 4 August 2003 - The Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr LEE Jong-wook, has urged countries to sign and ratify the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) as quickly as possible to prevent further loss of lives from tobacco-related diseases.
He made his remarks on the first day of the 12th World Conference on Tobacco or Health, currently underway in Helsinki, Finland. The conference, which takes place every three years, has drawn over 2000 tobacco control advocates from across the globe.
"The success of the FCTC as a tool for public health will depend on the energy and political commitment that countries devote to implementing it in the next few years. The result will be global public health gains for all. The challenge we face is for the treaty to make a difference where it really matters - in countries." he said.
Since the unanimous adoption of the FCTC by 192 WHO Member States in May, one country - Norway - has already ratified the treaty. Forty countries must ratify the Convention before it can enter into force and be a legally binding document.
Tobacco use kills 4.9 million people each year, most of whom live in poorer countries where tobacco use is increasing, largely due to aggressive tobacco marketing by the industry. By 2020, the total number of tobacco users worldwide is expected to reach 1.7 billion -- up from the current 1.3 billion. Increases will be particularly evident among women, mainly in the developing world. "Tobacco is not only a health issue, it is also a development issue. It particularly disadvantages the poor, and can even contribute to malnutrition when money is spent on tobacco rather than food. The links between poverty and tobacco need to be addressed as part of the broader health development agenda," said Dr Lee.
Stressing that the obligations of the FCTC were not the optimum, Dr Lee encouraged countries to consider measures beyond those required by the Convention and its protocols.
Minimum obligations of the FCTC include prominent health warnings on tobacco packages which should take up half the package, comprehensive advertising bans in accordance with countries' constitutions, and steps to protect people from tobacco smoke indoors in public places including the workplace.
"We must do more to stop young people from starting to smoke, and help everyone who wants to quit. Stopping smoking, even at a late age, greatly reduces health risks, and is the only way we can substantially reduce smoking-related deaths over the next 40 years.
"One of the best ways to stop youth from starting to smoke is to raise prices, and an increased tax on tobacco products will not only reduce consumption, but also raise government revenue. A tobacco tax levy of one per cent can also be used by countries to finance national tobacco control measures," said Dr Lee.
"The FCTC negotiations have unleashed a process resulting in tangible differences at country level. To drive this momentum, WHO calls on all tobacco control advocates to strengthen the efforts made thus far," concluded Dr Lee.
For more information, journalists may contact: Greer van Zyl, Information Officer, WHO WCTOH in Finland +27-83 647 7045 or at firstname.lastname@example.org; or Melinda Henry, Information Officer, Director-General's Office, WHO Geneva; Tel.: +41 22 791-2535: Fax: +41 22 791 4881; E-mail: email@example.com