Antitobacco Goes Global

The World Health Organization need look no farther than the smoke-filled cafes of its home country, Switzerland, to see the profound crisis in tobacco use affecting citizens around the globe - especially in Europe and developing nations.

Working to remove such routine use of tobacco products, delegates from 191 countries are meeting in Geneva this week and next to try to agree on more stringent tobacco controls worldwide. These include restrictions on advertising and marketing of tobacco products, improving warning labels, and cutting down on secondhand smoke.

That's a tall order, with WHO negotiators so far working four years to craft acceptable treaty language.

In that time, according to the WHO president, tobacco-related diseases have claimed 13.3 million lives worldwide.

One of the biggest challenges to penning a treaty is giving it enforcement; already text has been dropped that would have stipulated an eventual ban on tobacco companies' sponsoring sports and cultural events.

And it's obviously tough to get 191 countries on the same page. While many countries want a total ban on advertising, the US resists it on free-speech grounds, favoring more gradual restrictions.

Still, any agreement does not preclude individual countries from taking their own antismoking steps: Britain just banned all tobacco-related advertising last week.

The WHO attributes 4.9 million deaths to tobacco worldwide each year, a total it expects to double in the next two decades. Its global effort to create antismoking public awareness campaigns, and limit tobacco use worldwide will result, let's hope, in a meaningful treaty that deserves member countries' signatures.

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