London, Feb. 17 (Reuters): Two of the world’s biggest cancer charities launched a transatlantic alliance against the global threat of tobacco today as WHO member states began final negotiations for an international pact against smoking.
The American Cancer Society and Britain’s Cancer Research UK joined forces to launch a war, along with the International Union Against Cancer (UICC), to stamp out smoking which kills five million people a year through tobacco-related diseases.
“Never before has such a powerful alliance been forged in the face of such a deadly threat,” said Dr John Seffrin, president of the Geneva-based UICC, a global organisation committed to fighting cancer. The alliance will provide funding and support for new initiatives to help developing countries which they say are being aggressively targeted by the international tobacco industry to offset a decline in smoking in richer nations.
“Tobacco is already the single greatest cause of preventable death in the world,” Seffrin said.
“If current trends continue, 500 million people alive today will eventually die prematurely and needlessly from tobacco related disease,” he added.
The charities announced the alliance as a final negotiation session began in Geneva on the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which includes measures to restrict tobacco advertising, combat cigarette smuggling and discourage young people from taking up the habit. The FCTC, the first international treaty under World Health Organisation auspices, is expected to be accepted at its general assembly in May.
Anti-smoking groups in Britain and the US have welcomed the pact but say it falls short of what is needed to curb smoking worldwide.
The WHO predicts annual tobacco-related deaths will reach 10 million worldwide by the late 2020s, with more than 70 per cent of victims living in developing countries.
The charities will offer grants of $10,000 per year for up to two years to anti-smoking campaigners in 12 developing countries and provide advice, technical support and expertise for their programmes.
The grants will be administered and distributed by the UICC, which represents cancer organisations in 90 countries, including many in the developing world.
“Many of these developing nations lack the resources or the experience to take on the propaganda machine of the tobacco industry,” said David Zacks, chairman of the American Cancer Society. “In many cases they are even less prepared to deal with the epidemic of tobacco-related disease that will inevitably come,” he added.
Zacks accused the United States of choosing economic interests over health interests by blocking key provisions of the FCTC.
Along with Germany and Japan it has stymied plans to ban the promotion of tobacco worldwide by claiming it would contravene rights to freedom of speech.
By pooling their resources, the charities believe they will make a real difference in countries in the developing world which are struggling in the war against smoking.
“Perhaps the most important battle we can wage in the foreseeable future is the one against the human suffering of tobacco-related disease and death,” Zacks added.
Last month, the UN’s top health official today backed the proposed text for an international pact against smoking, saying it should win wide support and lead to a treaty with “muscle”.
But activists were sceptical about the latest bid in the WHO’s long search for an accord to wean the world off a habit that kills up to five million people a year.
Clive Bates of the British-based Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) said that the draft, to be put to a sixth and final negotiating session of WHO states next month in Geneva, "falls way short" of what was needed to tackle the problem.
The text, drawn by head of the treaty negotiating committee, ambassador Luis Felipe Seixas Correa of Brazil, recognises that the "spread of the tobacco epidemic is a global problem that calls for the widest possible international cooperation". In 38 articles, the proposed treaty spells out steps the UN health agency's 192 member states should take to "restrict" tobacco advertising, fight cigarette smuggling and deter young people from starting to smoke.
"With this new text, we have a solid basis for a treaty that, when adopted, will protect public health," said WHO director-general Gro Harlem Brundtland.