Despite initial concerns over its constitutionality, the U.S. said today it will sign on to an international tobacco control pact adopted by the World Health Organization.
The first global public health measure ever approved, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control seeks to limit tobacco-related deaths and disease by banning tobacco advertising, imposing higher cigarette taxes and cracking down on smuggling.
“This is a historic moment in global public health, demonstrating the international will to tackle a threat to health head on,” WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland told the WHO assembly today. “Now we must see this convention come into force as soon as possible and countries must use it as the basis of their national tobacco-control legislation.”
But some groups are distrustful of the new pact.
“This treaty proves that politicians and bureaucrats are hopelessly addicted to running other people’s lives, no matter which nation they’re from,” said Libertarian Party national Chairman Geoffrey Neale in a press release today. “While this document will further empower the international nanny state, in all likelihood it won’t deter people from smoking.”
The treaty will take effect when 40 of the 192 member states ratify it.
The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control was drafted after four years of heated debate and negotiations, and was adopted today by the WHO’s policy-making assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, reports CNN.
Tobacco is responsible for an estimated 5 million deaths each year, claims the World Health Organization, which believes this figure could double by 2020 if countries do not implement the new anti-tobacco measures.
Neale cites a Cornell University study that found no significant decline in teenage smoking rates in states that raised cigarette taxes, as well as a University of Sydney study showing that smoking rates in Australia parallel those in the U.S. even though the Australian government bans tobacco ads and sponsors massive anti-smoking campaigns on television.
The pact will ban or restrict tobacco advertising and calls for stricter legislation on cigarette smuggling and clean air.
The treaty’s wording allows each nation to undertake these measures “in accordance with its constitution or constitutional principles.”
Thus, U.S. Health Secretary Tommy Thompson told CNN initial concerns that restrictions on advertising “might fly in the face of our Constitution” have been resolved.
“That is why we support this [treaty] whole-heartedly today,” he continued.
Still, Libertarians in their press release maintain it’s none of the government’s business whether people smoke.
“Politicians have no right ordering Americans not to smoke — much less people halfway around the world,” Neale said. “Smoking is a personal choice, not an international crisis.”
He added: “The bottom line is that treaties, taxes and tyranny won’t curb smoking in the United States or abroad.”