Wednesday in Geneva saw the World Health Organization unanimously approve the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) – which could lead to a global ban on tobacco advertising and promotion. To the chomping sound of some delegates eating their hats, the USA also voted in favor of the accord.

“Today, we are acting to save billions of lives and protect people's health for generations to come,” WHO director-general Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland told delegates from 192 nations – to applause of a volume more usually heard in opera houses.

New Zealand health minister Annette King exclaimed “What a wonderful moment in public health,” before adding the somber rider that some twenty million people had died of smoking related disease since the WHO talks began four years ago.

In addition to imposing no-holds-barred health warnings on cigarette packs, the treaty also aims to ban hard-sell tactics targeting adolescents; urges governments to prohibit misleading terms such as ‘low-tar’ and ‘mild’; encourages tougher international measures against second-hand smoke and cigarette smuggling; and endorses the concept of manufacturer liability.

The FCTC will take effect as soon as it is ratified by a minimum of forty nations. A majority of delegates – including those from the European Union, Japan and China – assured the assembly that their governments will move without delay to sign and ratify the accord.

But some onlookers believe the euphoria is misplaced, with an ominous questionmark hanging over the reality of global implementation. America, as predicted [WAMN: 20-May-03], will be “reviewing the text of the convention,” warned US health and human services secretary Tommy Thompson.

And while that review takes place intensive lobbying on Capitol Hill by the world’s largest tobacco interests will continue, citing the First Amendment and its free speech connotations.

So where does the review leave the US in relation to the rest of the planet? Secretary Thompson would not be drawn: “The president is going to make the determination as to if and when he signs it,” he said.

Data sourced from: USA Today; additional content by WARC staff