Calling smoking “a fire in the global village,” the head of the World Health Organization Monday said he’s laying the groundwork for an international treaty aimed at clamping down on cigarettes.
Dr. Hiroshi Nakajima, the WHO’s director-general, said at a worldwide anti-smoking meeting that a global treaty could spark united action against such practices as cigarette smuggling, aggressive marketing and duty-free sales of tobacco products.
Nakajima spoke at a press conference of the 10th World Conference on Tobacco or Health, a worldwide meeting that has attracted 2,000 scientists, anti-smoking advocates and government leaders. The five-day conference is hosted by the Chinese government and sponsored by WHO and other international organizations.
The WHO leader said he hopes to have an international treaty in place before the year 2000. Organizers of the Beijing conference say they expect to draft a resolution supporting a global agreement when the meeting ends Thursday.
Conference delegates say a treaty would spur comprehensive action on a variety of common issues, including cigarette pricing policies, government testing of products and industry reporting of sales and exports.
A tobacco control treaty would be the first international agreement adopted by WHO, but other United Nations agencies have drafted worldwide treaties on issues of international concern, such as torture.
Clifford Douglas, an Illinois anti-smoking lawyer and conference delegate, said such a treaty would be helpful in uniting the worldwide tobacco control movement.
“The tobacco industry has gotten away with murder for many years,” he said. “Tobacco kills far more people than any of the other health and social problems of worldwide concern, including torture, AIDS, child abuse and land mines.”
WHO’s Nakajima was one of several top health officials who spoke to dozens of journalists at a Monday press conference at the Beijing convention. Primarily, they discussed the death toll likely to result as smoking continues to rise in the developing world.
Currently, officials said, smoking results in 3.5 million deaths annually across the globe, but that’s expected to go to 10 million yearly with the growing popularity in Asia of Western-style cigarettes from multinational companies.
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