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Global anti-smoking rules agreed

Public health officials from around the world agreed this week on some new anti-smoking rules, but others which could have sharply reduced global tobacco consumption remained out of reach at an international conference.

Host Uruguay won unanimous support from the 171 countries that have signed on to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control treaty, encouraging President Jose Mujica to promise a fierce defence of the country's tough anti-smoking policies against a legal challenge by Philip Morris International, the world's second-largest tobacco company.

Delegates at the World Health Organisation-sponsored meeting also agreed that smoking cessation programmes should be paid for by national health systems and that governments should train experts to help more smokers quit.

But amid intense industry lobbying, delegates failed to reach consensus on how to encourage tobacco farmers to switch to other crops and how to crack down on illegal cigarette smuggling.

And they were still working toward the treaty's long-held goal - recommendations that governments require ingredients to appear on cigarette labels and restrict or even ban aromatic and flavour additives that make harsh-tasting tobacco more attractive to first-time smokers. Delegates were still struggling to find language on ingredients and additives on which they could agree before a final session.

"We are not there yet and time is running out. But I am optimistic," said Antoon Opperhuizen, a Dutch toxicologist and economist who is advising the convention's secretariat on restricting additives. "Some questioned 'Can you really regulate ingredients that make the product more attractive?' And the consensus was that there are tools for that, and you can do that."

What the conference will not recommend is restricting specific chemicals or flavours, Mr Opperhuizen said. He said there were simply too many, and they changed too frequently. "Everything used in food is also used in tobacco", from chocolate, liquorice and vanilla to many other flavours and smells, he said. "It's impossible to have a complete list."

Philip Morris and the tobacco growers' lobby say identifying and restricting additives would cost millions of jobs and harm emerging economies around the world. Public health officials countered that tobacco producers can switch to other crops, and said millions of lives could be saved by reducing smoking.

The International Tobacco Growers Association says the treaty threatens the livelihood of 30 million tobacco growers around the globe.

The group 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%, the group said as it delivered a petition to the conference which it said was signed by 235,000 growers in 26 countries.

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