World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control closed this week, with nearly 90% of countries having signed up

The World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) closed for signature this week, with nearly 90% of countries having signed and over half of the required ratifications, keeping the Convention on track to become binding international law by the end of 2004.

The WHO FCTC has become one of the most rapidly embraced United Nations' conventions, with 167 WHO Member States and the European Community (EC) signing, and 23 countries ratifying, accepting, approving or acceding to the Convention, just one year after it opened for signature in Geneva.

WHO is now helping countries prepare for the moment when the WHO FCTC reaches 40 ratifications and it comes into force. An important step in this process included a five-day Intergovernmental Working Group in Geneva, chaired by Brazilian Ambassador Luiz Felipe de Seixas Corrêa, Chair also of the last three rounds of negotiations that led to the accepted text of the WHO FCTC. The rapid response to the WHO FCTC demonstrates the increasing commitment worldwide to control the tobacco epidemic, which continues to expand at alarming rates, especially among people in less-developed countries.

"Although we have good reason to be confident, a relentless effort will still be needed for the foreseeable future. Current projections show a rise of 31% in tobacco-related deaths during the next twenty years, which will double the current death toll, bringing it to almost ten million a year," said WHO Director-General Dr LEE Jong-wook to countries attending the Intergovernmental Working Group. "When the Treaty comes into force, national and local activities aimed at reversing these trends will be enormously strengthened. The result will be improved public health and reduced poverty."

WHO has urged countries that have signed to ratify the Treaty as soon as possible. "The sooner the 40 ratifications are in place, the sooner effective and coordinated actions within the Framework Convention at country level can begin. Countries can rely on WHO for continued support," said Dr Catherine Le Galès-Camus, Assistant Director-General, Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health at WHO.

The WHO FCTC, adopted unanimously by all WHO Member States in May last year, is the first public health treaty negotiated under the auspices of WHO. It was designed to become a tool to manage what has become the single biggest preventable cause of death. There are currently an estimated 1.3 billion smokers worldwide. Half of them, some 650 million people, are expected to die prematurely of a tobacco-related disease.

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