The battle against smoking in the United States has been waged for decades. It hasn't been completely won yet, since youth smoking figures are still worrisome. But overall the use of tobacco is way down in this country.
An effort to replicate those gains on a global scale is now under way. Delegates to a World Health Organization (WHO) conference in Geneva just finished outlining an international treaty to limit tobacco advertising, increase taxes on cigarettes, combat cigarette smuggling, and discourage smoking by teens. Plans call for the treaty to take effect in 2003.
The effort comes none too soon. An estimated 1.1 billion people smoke worldwide, and 80 percent of them live in developing countries. China has the world's largest population of smokers.
China's government, too, is heavily dependent on tobacco, in the form of revenue from cigarette taxes. But China is hardly alone. Tobacco provides 6 percent of Germany's annual tax revenue. Increased cigarette taxes will initially boost such revenue, but over time the tax take will drop as smoking declines. Gains in health and productivity, however, will more than make up for that.
This treaty will face obstacles. Tobacco companies, overseas as well as in the US, still have clout. Lobbying to weaken the treaty could be intense.
But so is the momentum on the side of breaking tobacco's destructive hold on individuals. It may be harder to change attitudes toward smoking in places far less media-soaked than America. But, eventually, a cultural shift against tobacco can occur.
That process is a positive one for people everywhere. Arguments may be made that an international antismoking push infringes on national prerogatives. In fact, this effort is in line with national interests no less than the interests of individuals.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society