On March 1 2003 the World Health Organization announced a groundbreaking public health treaty to control tobacco sales and consumption. Specifically, a comprehensive worldwide ban on advertising and promoting tobacco products except where this would conflict with written national constitutions[WAMN: 04-Mar-03].

The so-called Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) was backed by all but twenty of the WHO’s 191 member states, and although the dissidents were not named they are thought to include the US, Japan and Germany – all of whom had opposed tobacco advertising controls.

On April 28 2003, a letter was delivered by US ambassador Kevin Moley to WHO headquarters in Geneva stating that although the US supported the initiative in general it could not adopt it as written because of a ‘no-reservations’ clause that prevents individual nations from disregarding any provisions they found unacceptable.

America’s letter asked that all 191 WHO member nations send their representatives back to the negotiating table and was handed by ambassador Moley to WHO director general Gro Brundtland during a private meeting Monday.

There were three specific provisions to which Washington would not commit: (1) setting minimum sizes on warning labels; (2) prohibiting the free [sample] distribution of cigarettes; and (3) defining what constitutes an advertisement, which could violate the First Amendment.

On Capitol Hill US Democrats accused the Bush administration of protecting tobacco companies and called its legal points specious. In a detailed, eight-page letter to President Bush, Representative Henry A Waxman of California said the “position of the United States has been in virtual lock step with the tobacco industry throughout the [FCTC]negotiations.”

In a separate letter to the White House, Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle and Representative Nancy Pelosi urged President Bush: “That you [do] not seek to reopen the negotiations because the only outcomes would be to isolate the US from our allies and weaken the treaty so much so that it will not effectively deal with the harm posed by tobacco use.”

Meantime, a spokesman for Luiz Felipe de Seixas Corr, the Brazilian representative who presided over the four-year FCTC negotiations, said his embassy opposed reopening negotiations and did not want to allow nations to cherry-pick which parts of the convention they would ratify.

The progenitor of the FCTC initiative is the American Cancer Society.

Data sourced from: New York Times; additional content by WARC staff