November 20, 2010 / 9:04 PM / 10 years ago

World health officials take aim at tobacco additives

PUNTA DEL ESTE, Uruguay (Reuters) - World health officials recommended on Saturday limiting additives that make cigarettes more palatable, but they postponed until 2012 a number of other issues after five days of deliberations.

People walk past near an anti-tobacco installation in Montevideo November 16, 2010, as Uruguay hosts the Fourth Conference of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in Punta del Este. Health officials from across the world gathered on Monday in Uruguay to discuss tighter controls on tobacco that are rejected by farmers and the cigarette industry. REUTERS/Pablo La Rosa

The World Health Organization meeting in Uruguay’s fashionable beach resort of Punta del Este was aimed at fleshing out the so-called Framework Convention for Tobacco Control, which 171 countries have signed.

The global public health treaty addresses tobacco industry marketing and cigarette smuggling.

Delegates approved a proposal to limit the use of tobacco additives, which critics say improve the flavor of cigarettes, encouraging consumers to smoke more.

But they put off until the next meeting decisions on tougher taxes for tobacco products, alternative crops for tobacco farmers, and the regulation of smokeless electronic cigarettes, which provide vaporized puffs of nicotine.

“We’ve been able to take this conference to another level,” said Thamsanqa Dennis Mseleku, who presided at the WHO meeting.

The International Tobacco Growers Association criticized the recommendation to limit additives, saying it would hurt farmers who cultivate certain tobacco varieties that lose their flavor more easily, without curbing overall production.

“This is an ambiguous decision ... it gives countries great leeway in deciding what measures to take on mixes (of tobacco varieties),” said Antonio Abrunhosa, head of the growers’ group.

Health officials also recommended actions to beef up education and awareness campaigns on the dangers of smoking.

And they publicly backed Uruguay’s tough anti-smoking rules, some of which have been challenged by global tobacco company Philip Morris International.

The company this year sought arbitration at the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes, citing a trade deal between Uruguay and Switzerland, where the company is based.

Philip Morris has said it supports many of the Uruguayan measures, but disputes several regulations including an increase in the size of health warnings on packets and a rule that limits the number of brands any one company can sell.

Uruguay’s president, former leftist guerrilla leader Jose Mujica, said this week the multinational firm was going after a small nation for “trying to defend its people’s health.”

More than 51 million people worldwide have died of tobacco-related illnesses since 1999, according to the WHO.

Writing by Hilary Burke; editing by Chris Wilson

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