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WHO backs tobacco advert controls

WHO says smoking-related deaths are on the rise.
WHO says smoking-related deaths are on the rise.

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GENEVA, Switzerland (CNN) -- The World Health Organization has adopted an international treaty to clamp down on tobacco advertising and sponsorship -- despite opposition from the industry.

The treaty was approved without a vote Wednesday by the WHO's policy-making assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, but needs to be ratified by the 192 member states.

It bans or restricts tobacco advertising, introduces stiffer health warnings and control the uses of terms like "low-tar" on cigarette packs. It is also intended to stop hard-sell techniques aimed at adolescents.

It also calls for stricter measures against passive smoking and cigarette smuggling with more responsibility on manufacturers.

The WHO believes the new measures could save million of lives.

Smoking-related deaths now stand at five million people a year, says the WHO, which warns the figure could double by 2020 without stricter anti-tobacco measures.

"This is a historic moment in global public health, demonstrating the international will to tackle a threat to health head on," WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland told the WHO assembly Wednesday.

"Now we must see this convention come into force as soon as possible and countries must use it as the basis of their national tobacco-control legislation."

Anti-smoking campaigners had been worried that the move would be blocked by tobacco interests in the U.S. and Germany.

But Jean King, of Cancer Research UK, told CNN: "Fortunately, both these countries are not going to block the treaty which is what we were concerned about."

U.S. Health Secretary Tommy Thompson told CNN that initial concerns the restrictions on advertising "might fly in the face of our constitution" have been resolved.

He added: "That is why we supported this [treaty] whole-heartedly today."

However, the tobacco industry has opposed tighter regulations, saying they have not worked in the past and could lead to illegal trade in cigarettes.

"If there are ways to make cigarettes that reduce the risks of smoking you won't be able to promote them and that's the problem," Colin Proctor, of the British American Tobacco, told CNN.

"Increasing taxes? That's been a government policy for centuries. It works if you do it gradually.

"If you do it excessively what happens is the legal market disappears and everyone goes to buy smuggled and counterfeited products."

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