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International: WHO targets tobacco promos

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International: WHO targets tobacco promos

When the World Cup soccer competition kicks off at the end of May, nerves among spectators may be jangling more than you'd expect.

The reason: all World Cup venues in the host nations of Japan and Korea will be tobacco-free zones, giving soccer fans no chance to relax with a cigarette while watching the match. That's a big deal in these countries where 60% of men smoke.

The initiative -- tied in with World No Tobacco Day on May 31 -- also means there'll be no tobacco sponsorship or marketing around the World Cup and no tobacco sold within the stadia.

Talking is just the start of the plan the WHO has in hand. Its intention is to put in place a ground-breaking, legally enforceable, global treaty that will ban tobacco advertising and sponsorship, tackle passive smoking, establish rules for cigarette pack labeling, increase taxation, stub out smuggling and phase out subsidies for tobacco growing.

The pact, scheduled for adoption by the WHO's 191 members in May next year, will be the world's first international public health treaty.

The WHO claims tobacco-related diseases kill four million people each year, a figure that's expected to rise to 10 million by 2030 if current consumption patterns continue.

The impetus for the focus on tobacco was the installation of Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, the former Prime Minister of Norway, as WHO Director-General in 1998.

Brazil's ambassador to the U.N., Luiz Felipe de Seixas Correa, will present a simplified text of the agreement so far to WHO member countries in mid-June. Only one, or possibly two, further negotiating sessions are expected before the final text is put to the WHO's governing body, the World Health Assembly, in May 2003.

But, as crunch time nears, some countries are emerging as less supportive of key provisions of the treaty. The U.S., Germany and Japan are understood to be holding out against a total ban on tobacco sponsorship and advertising. And the U.S. is reportedly opposing a proposal to remove terms such as "mild" or "light" which mislead by suggesting such cigarettes are safer.

While discussions among WHO member countries fire up this summer, the WHO hopes to fan the flames of anti-tobacco sentiment by encouraging governments and health groups to use litigation and public enquiries as tools for tobacco control. This follows recent success in litigation in both the U.S. and India, where the Supreme Court has now banned smoking in many public places.


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