Argentina - only Latin American country that has not ratified the FCTC..

May 13, 2009 - Six years after signing (President Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) signed in 2003) the global World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), Argentina is the only Latin American country that has not ratified it (parliamentary ratification is still pending), for fear of losing tens of thousands of rural jobs in seven provinces.

The treaty requires signatories to adopt a comprehensive ban on all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship of events by tobacco companies within five years of its ratification. Its provisions also set forth minimum measures on taxes, prices, labeling, packaging, and protection from second-hand smoke, like the establishment of smoke-free areas. But these provisions, accepted by other tobacco-producing nations, are staunchly opposed in Argentina by the tobacco industry and farmers, and ratification has been blocked in Congress by the representatives of tobacco-producing provinces.

"Until there is a replacement activity for tobacco growers, of which there are around 26,000 small producers around the country, ratification of the convention is unlikely," Senator Sonia Escudero from the northwestern province of Salta, one of Argentina’s main tobacco-growing areas, told IPS. "Our provinces are among the poorest in the country, and if we lose the 60,000 jobs that tobacco production provides, it would be complete chaos," she said. The activists argue that tobacco should be replaced by an equally or more profitable crop that does not pose such threats to health and the environment.

The lawmakers from the seven tobacco-producing provinces argue that ratification of the treaty would spell the end of their regional economies. Legislators from the northern provinces of Jujuy, Salta, Tucumán, Corrientes, Misiones, Catamarca and Chaco are not optimistic about the possibility of finding adequate production and employment alternatives. "Crop substitution experiments are being carried out, but so far no crop has been found that brings the returns provided by tobacco," said Escudero.

Argentina is among the world’s 10 biggest producers of tobacco, exporting around 80 percent of what it produces. However, the cigarette industry, which generates the largest number of jobs in the sector, is not based in the north, but in Buenos Aires.

In Argentina, tobacco use is accountable for 40,000 preventable deaths a year. 40 percent of adults smoke in Argentina compared to 22 percent in the United States.

“One of the goals of this study is to raise public awareness,” he says. “This will help put pressure on politicians and public health officials.”

The federal government controls the price of cigarettes in Argentina. Pérez-Stable says pressure will need to be strong before the government will impose higher taxes on cigarettes, as many state governments have done in the United States.

Dr. Verónica Schoj, coordinator of the Smokefree Argentina Alliance (ALIAR), which groups around 100 tobacco-control advocacy organisations, rejected Escudero’s arguments. "Brazil is the largest tobacco producer in the Americas and the second largest in the world after China, and both countries have ratified the convention, because it outlines supportive measures to improve the living conditions of farmers, and for crop substitution," Schoj told IPS. "The ratification of the convention would be a huge stride towards reducing the leading cause of preventable premature death in the country, and in reducing the 4.3 billion peso (around 1.16 billion dollars) annual expenditure on treating illnesses caused by consumption of or exposure to tobacco smoke," she said. Schoj pointed out that in 1992, lawmakers in both houses of Congress approved a draft law on tobacco control, which was later vetoed by then president Carlos Menem (1989-1999) in response to lobbying from the tobacco industry.

Tobacco producers and the Tobacco Industry opposed FCTC ratification in Argentina by lobbying elected representatives and placing stories in regional media to obstruct approval of tobacco control laws. These activities have led to a delay in consideration of Argentina’s ratification of the FCTC despite the President’s signature in 2003.

The convention, which was adopted on March 21, 2003 and went into effect on February 27, 2005, has been signed by 168 countries and ratified by 164. May 31 is World No Tobacco Day.

More on Tobacco in Argentina - Euromonitor..

Reference: ARGENTINA: Tobacco Treaty Unratified, Six Years On by Marcela Valente,, 3/11/2009.