International tobacco talks close

key issues unsettled

Limits on cigarette ads left for debate next year

November 29, 2001|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

GENEVA - The latest round of talks to forge an international anti-tobacco agreement ended yesterday with some of the most contentious issues, particularly a sweeping ban on cigarette advertising, left for next year.

Saying tobacco is responsible for the deaths of an estimated 4 four million people a year, the World Health Organization has tried hard to encourage its 191 member countries to agree on measures to reduce significantly the use of tobacco.

The organization's director, Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland of Norway, said she was satisfied that progress had been made for talks next year.

The proposed ban on advertising and on labels calling cigarettes "light" or "low-tar" were two of the most disputed proposals.

Opposition from U.S.

The United States has opposed any across-the-board prohibition of tobacco advertising, saying it violates U.S. free-speech guarantees.

Such actions instead should be controlled country by country, the U.S. delegates argued, even though there are restrictions on cigarette advertising in America.

This position appears to clash with the one taken by the 15-country European Union, which has come out in favor of "global restrictions on all forms of advertising and promotion of tobacco products, and a total ban on cross-border advertising."

Dr. Derek Yach, WHO's executive director for noncommunicable diseases, said that while the agency is encouraging countries to adopt their own bans he expected the treaty "would close any loopholes."

Europeans and Americans did agree on steps directed at curbing widespread cigarette smuggling.

The United States is pushing for measures to stop the practice and introduced an addendum to the proposed treaty that would commit countries to fight smuggling.

Chorus of criticism

The U.S. positions drew a chorus of criticism from antismoking advocates, who insisted that the Bush administration was echoing tobacco industry stands, an argument that the senior U.S. delegate, Dr. Kenneth Bernard, firmly denied.

U.S. officials came out against banning "light" and similar labeling.

A study released this week by the National Cancer Institute of the United States said such wording was deceptive because smokers thought it promised a reduced risk of lung cancer and other smoking-related diseases, while the scientific evidence shows no such thing.

No U.S. officials commented after the conclusion of the talks, over which the United States now formally presides, at least until the quarrel over which country will assume the chairmanship is settled.

The departure of the current chairman, Celso Amorim of Brazil, opened up a rift as Brazil sought to retain the chairmanship and South Africa, which has made the reduction of smoking a top health priority, battled to win the spot.

A last-minute drawing of lots left the United States as interim chairman, perhaps until the next session begins March 18.

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