GENEVA — Negotiations for a global pact to curb tobacco use stumbled this week, with major countries backing away from tougher provisions and health campaigners charging that the Bush administration was trying to water down the treaty.
Governments from more than 150 countries met here to work out the provisions of a treaty that the World Health Organization is pushing to stem the rising death toll around the world from tobacco-related diseases. About 4 million people die yearly from such diseases, and the number is expected to more than double to as many as 10 million people over the next 30 years as smoking takes hold in countries like China.
The United States is weakening the language of the draft treaty by changing `shall' to `should' in a number of places, including a ban on advertising and promotion.
To emphasize its concern about harm to adolescent health, the United Nations health agency released a study on Friday that found 700 million children breathe air polluted by tobacco smoke, mostly from relatives smoking at home, which causes long-term health damage.
Despite a harmonious start last fall, this week the deliberations fell into squabbling. The chairman of the talks, Celso Amorim, a Brazilian diplomat, said no progress had been made on the treaty, which is supposed to go into force in 2003, because countries were still hashing out their positions on many contentious provisions.
Those included banning advertising and promotion of tobacco, regulating labeling, clamping down on cigarette smuggling and barring smoking in public places.
Antismoking activists charged the United States and Japan with siding with tobacco multinationals by diluting treaty language designed to curb the influences of the tobacco companies and their commercial reach, thus undermining provisions that campaigners had thought were settled during the first negotiating round last fall.
During last year's session, countries almost unanimously called for a complete ban on cigarette advertising and promotion, including the sponsoring of sports events like Formula One auto racing. Countries as diverse as Sri Lanka, Thailand, Turkey and a tobacco grower like Brazil, lined up behind the idea.
Now, however, the United States and other major countries like Japan appear to be backpedaling.
Japan's government has a stake in Japan Tobacco, which bought R.J. Reynolds's international tobacco business, and has not been a strong supporter of the treaty.
The Americans have stopped short of supporting a total ban on advertising and promotion, arguing that it would violate free-speech guarantees if applied to the United States.
And the European Union's tough stance on an advertising ban took a beating last fall when the European Court of Justice struck down such a measure on grounds that it blocked free movement of goods and services.
But the most stinging criticism after this week's round of talks was reserved for the United States, with some health campaigners going so far as to urge the American delegation to drop out of the talks rather than weaken the pact.
Clive Bates, director of Action on Smoking and Health, criticized the United States participation as "entirely negative — weakening, delaying and deleting anything that might have substance."
Lucinda Wykle-Rosenberg, of the Boston-based anti-tobacco lobby, InFact, said, "The United States is weakening the language of the draft treaty by changing `shall' to `should' in a number of places, including a ban on advertising and promotion."
Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company