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HEALTH REPORT - May 28, 2003: WHO Approves Anti-Tobacco Agreement - 2003-05-27

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

Saturday is World No Tobacco Day. This yearly observance is part of the efforts to reduce a major threat to public health. Those efforts took a big step last week at the World Health Organization in Geneva. All one-hundred-ninety-two members of the W-H-O approved a treaty called the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. It is the first international treaty negotiated by the World Health Organization, part of the United Nations. To bring the treaty into effect, at least forty countries must now accept it as law.

The treaty would require countries to ban or restrict advertising and other efforts by tobacco companies to market their products. It would require that health warnings cover at least thirty percent of the surface of a pack of cigarettes. It would require that all the materials used to make tobacco products be listed on the package. The treaty also urges governments to strengthen indoor-air laws, place high taxes on tobacco and act to stop illegal trade in cigarettes.

The W-H-O says tobacco now kills about five-million people each year. It says ten-million people could die each year from tobacco by twenty-twenty. Most will be in developing countries. Smoking rates are increasing in many developing countries.

Smoking causes lung cancer and other diseases. It also harms the unborn children of pregnant women. Even people who do not use tobacco can die if they continually breathe tobacco smoke in the air.

Four years of negotiation led to the tobacco-control treaty. The next step is for countries to sign the treaty and have their governments approve it. Delegates from the European Union, China and Japan, among others, said their governments would move soon to act on the agreement.

What the United States will do next is not clear. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said officials in Washington are studying the document.

Congress would have to change tobacco laws before the treaty could take effect in the United States. A big question is how far the government could go to restrict tobacco advertising and not violate the Constitution. This question had led the United States to try to get out of some parts of the treaty.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Nancy Steinbach.