There are more than 1 billion smokers worldwide. The World Health Organization estimates that the number of people dying each year from cancer, cardiovascular disease and other smoking-related conditions has reached 4.9 million a year — up from 4 million deaths a year when negotiations began on a treaty to restrict tobacco use four years ago. The number could reach as high as 10 million by 2020; 70 percent of the victims will come from developing nations.

The 171 nations negotiating the treaty agreed this month on a draft of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control to govern tobacco taxation, smoking prevention and treatment, illicit trade, advertising, sponsorship and promotion, and product regulation. The document goes to the World Health Assembly in May for adoption. The treaty will go into force after it has been ratified by 40 countries.

Key provisions include a commitment to end tobacco-related advertising within five years, standards for health warnings on cigarette packets, a “consideration of public-health objectives” when making tax and pricing policies on tobacco products, and a commitment to provide financial support to national tobacco control programs. Financial support will also be given to poorer countries to develop campaigns against smoking and to find profitable alternatives to tobacco production.

Some antitobacco advocacy groups have criticized the draft for not demanding a complete ban on tobacco advertising. However, constitutional protections of free speech prohibit such a prohibition. Tobacco-producing countries have also criticized the convention on free-speech grounds, and because of the financial impact it will have on domestic producers. Such calculations overlook the public-health costs of tobacco addiction and secondhand smoke. The claim that the treaty will affect markets in developing counties — which are the focus of tobacco-producing countries like Japan — is true, but it merely ends the practice of exporting these hazardous products to compensate for rising health consciousness and declining sales at home. Japan should swallow hard and ratify the convention. It will go down easier than cigarette smoke.

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