MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay – In a major blow to the tobacco industry, public health officials from around the world agreed Saturday to recommend restricting or banning flavor additives that make cigarettes more attractive to new smokers.
Delegates from 172 countries that have signed on to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control treaty also agreed to recommend that tobacco producers be required to disclose their ingredients to health authorities.
The tobacco industry lobbied hard against the guidelines, saying that millions of jobs would be lost and economies ruined if countries follow through.
"There was a lot of campaigning against these guidelines. It's a major achievement because countries really showed unity and showed they are putting public health policies as a priority before the interests of the industry," convention spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told The Associated Press. "If these guidelines are implemented, this could lead to a certain decrease of new smokers — fewer young people getting hooked."
Developing detailed guidelines for how governments should regulate aromatic and flavor additives that make otherwise harsh-tasting cigarettes more palatable has been a major goal since the treaty went into effect five years ago. Articles 9 and 10 now provide a road map any country can use to establish its own regulations.
The United States, which has signed but not ratified the convention, is among several countries that already regulate these additives. Canada, France and Australia also do it, Jasarevic said. "It can be done in different ways: Either make a list of ingredients that are banned, or require that tobacco companies obtain a license for any new additive," he said.
Chocolate, licorice and strawberry flavors are among hundreds of ingredients added to cigarettes.
Antoon Opperhuizen, a Dutch toxicologist and economist who advised the convention's secretariat on the guidelines, said "everything used in food is also used in tobacco" — so many chemicals that establishing a fixed list would be impossible.
The 172 signatory nations also agreed to:
— support Uruguay in its legal defense against Philip Morris International, the world's second-largest tobacco company, which says the country has violated a trade agreement by requiring graphic warning labels on 80 percent of cigarette packages. If World Bank arbitrators agree, Uruguay could be forced to pay the company millions of dollars.
— establish a working group to develop guidelines on taxing tobacco in ways that might reduce consumption and provide continued funding for the tobacco control convention, which currently has an operating deficit of $600,000.
— recommend that smoking cessation programs be paid for by national health systems and that governments should train experts to help more smokers quit.
Other goals remained out of reach during the convention in Punta del Este, Uruguay, such as guidelines for encouraging tobacco farmers to switch to other crops.
The International Tobacco Growers Association says the treaty threatens the livelihood of 30 million tobacco growers around the globe.
The association estimated that 3.6 million people in just five poor African countries depend on tobacco cultivation. Reducing demand for harsher-tasting burley tobacco could shrink the economy of Malawi alone by 20 percent, the lobbyists said as they delivered a petition signed by 235,000 growers in 26 countries.
Associated Press writer Raul O. Garces reported this story in Montevideo and Michael Warren reported from Buenos Aires, Argentina.