The world’s first global health treaty — the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control — has come into force from Sunday. First adopted by the 56th World Health Assembly in May 2003, the anti-tobacco pact was signed by 168 countries, including Nepal, and so far has been ratified by 58 of them. Nepal has remained silent about the ratification of the Convention. In those countries where the treaty has become law, it calls for health warnings on cigarette packets, bans tobacco advertisement and urges measures to protect non-smokers from its harmful effects within five years from now. Lobbyists say the treaty sets a precedent for international regulation of other health threatening industries, environment and even human rights. It is, however, true that every year some five million people die of tobacco-induced illnesses around the world. While there have been anti-treaty lobbyists, the tobacco conglomerates now more or less seem to agree that it is a good thing to be conscious about the harmful effects of tobacco.
Closer at home, there has been no dearth of those who think that the government needs to be pressurised to ratify the treaty. If nicotine is harmful as science claims to have proven it, tobacco industry continues to be a source of income and employment for thousands of people in Nepal. The revenue windfall from tobacco advertisement is a strong addiction, one which the government will find it difficult to shake off. Unlike many other industries, the tobacco industry seldom suffers losses. Because the tobacco industry is a tempting option for both the investors and the government, the course to ratification is long and difficult. That, however, is not to belittle the anti-tobacco drives in any way. Because it is harmful, there is no better alternative than not consuming tobacco. But even if the treaty were ratified, there is a very little prospect of it being implemented fully for a number of reasons. Some other laws have suffered a similar fate. For example, abortion has been legalised in Nepal for over two years now, but women are still being jailed for undergoing legal abortions.
But because the government is silent on the issue does not mean the smokers can continue to infringe the right of the non-smokers by forcing them to be passive smokers in vehicles, offices and places of public importance. On the other hand, just being a signatory to the Convention is no solution for a country when it knew it beforehand that the bridge must be ultimately crossed once the first step towards it has been taken. Although there are a whole range of other countries who have yet to ratify the Convention, waiting for others to do so before taking the plunge is not the best course of action.