Global anti-smoking pact takes off
By Ben Ukwuoma and Anson Ekechi Chukwu
The Guardian, Feb 28,2005

A GLOBAL anti-tobacco treaty aimed at stopping children from smoking and helping adults break the habit came into force yesterday. The treaty could save millions of lives, the United Nations (UN) has also observed.

"Its entry into force is a demonstration of governments' commitment to reducing death and illness from tobacco use," said World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General, Lee Jong-wook, in a statement to mark the event.

Tobacco, the second leading cause of preventable deaths globally after hypertension, kills 4.9 million people a year, the UN agency says.

And the yearly death toll from tobacco-related diseases -- lung cancer, heart attacks and cardiovascular diseases -- could soar to 10 million by 2020, with 70 per cent of the deaths in developing countries, it adds.

The treaty, known as the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, gives members three years to slap strong health` warnings on tobacco packages and five years to ban advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

It also recommends tax increase on tobacco products, a crackdown on smuggling, and reducing exposure to second-hand smoke.

Approved by the WHO's 192 member states in May 2003, the pact became law on Sunday, 90 days after the 40th state had ratified it.

It will only carry legal weight in those countries, which have ratified it, now numbering 57. In total, 167 countries have signed the pact -- but have not necessarily sent it to parliament for ratification.

Nigeria is one of the countries yet to ratify the treaty.

WHO officials and activists say the powerful tobacco industry is lobbying intensively to restrict the number of countries applying the treaty, including the United States (U.S.), which has signed up but not yet sent it to the Senate.

"The tobacco industry wants to be free to sell and market their deadly products in such a way that they have more and more profits. This is the only language the tobacco industry knows," Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, director of the WHO's Tobacco Free Initiative, told journalists.

"In Brazil, my country, the tobacco industry is furiously lobbying the Congress and the Senate in order not to get the treaty ratified. They are using the tobacco farmers to make the case, saying that they will lose their jobs."
Activists accuse American President George Bush administration, which signed the pact last May, of having worked hard to dilute it.

"U.S. ratification of the treaty would send a strong message to the rest of the world that we will not support these efforts and instead put protection of public health ahead of tobacco industry interests," the U.S.-based Tobacco Free Kids lobby group said.

Douglas Bettcher, treaty co-ordinator, was upbeat. "We are happy to report that industry is not winning this game."
Some of the largest tobacco growers -- India, Japan, Pakistan, Thailand and Turkey -- as well as cigarette - producing countries such as Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey are among those which have ratified the treaty, he said.

Dr. Kingsley Akinoye, Vice President, Nigeria Heart Foundation Lagos, expressed regret that the Nigerian government is yet to ratify Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which was signed in 2004.

He explained that although many aspects of the Treaty, such as prohibition of smoking in public places and banning of advertisement of smoking without strong warning are being implemented in the country, the ratification by government would save millions of lives.

He insisted that the health benefit of dissuading children from smoking far outweighed whatever commercial benefits the country will derive.

Similarly, a non-governmental organisation, Environmental Right Action (ERA) has urged the Nigeria government to promptly ratify the treaty as a demonstration of its commitment to public health.

"This is a great milestone in public health and corporate accountability.

"The treaty will save millions of lives and it demonstrates that working together, nations of the world and their Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) allies can protect people from irresponsible and dangerous actions" it said in a statement signed by the programme manager, Akinbode Oluwafemi.

"This is about the health of our people. The treaty is to save them from death, diseases and poverty. Nigeria cannot afford not to act now". Mr. Nninmo Bassy, ERA's director said the FCTC treaty, negotiated under the auspices of the WHO, is a multisectoral international instrument for the control of Tobacco manufacturing, marketing and distribution.

The convention addresses every aspect of the tobacco trade, including advertising, promotion, smuggling cessation and protects health policy from tobacco industry interference.

Globally, WHO estimates that about five million people die yearly from tobacco use.

Nigerian home video and film producers have also been enjoined to stop smoking scenes, as they are being used by the tobacco industry to recruit youths into cigarette smoking.

This was the view of the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth, Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) at the weekend.

The group, in a statement issued to commemorate the International Day of Action, an event organised by the Smoke Free Movies Action Network, a coalition of NGOs in over 20 countries, called on the home videos and film producers to stop taking pay-offs from tobacco companies to promote smoking scenes which ultimately glorify tobacco smoking.

The group noted that since governments started banning all tobacco advertisement, the tobacco industry have shifted focus to product placements and actors' endorsement of their products.

ERA speaking through Oluwafemi Akinbode said: "We are worried that from films produced in Hollywood to those from our own Nollywood, there is an alarming increase in the occurrence of smoking scenes, tobacco product brands and imageries. Of course, youths see actors as role models".

A survey of 800 youths between the ages of 13 and 18 in Asia, Africa, South America and Europe found that all the 10 most popular U.S. movies stars named by them have smoked on screen, and half of them frequently.

Ken Dahlgren who supervised the survey for the Smoke Free Movies Action Network, said: "Teens everywhere like Hollywood movies. So if they have the same effect on adolescents in other countries, then the movie industry with the current glorification of smoking by film producers and actors has become a big tool for youths' initiation into smoking and piling up tens of millions of