At ESMO's 29th Congress in Vienna, Austria, WHO tobacco control expert Dr. Andreas Ullrich said European countries had been too slow at ratifying the treaty--which is seen as a crucial weapon in the fight against cancer.
Tobacco use is the major cause of lung cancer, a deadly malignancy that affects 900,000 more people every year. There is currently no curative treatment available and the five-year survival rate for lung cancer patients is less than 15%.
The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, passed at the World Health Assembly in 2003, legally binds countries to take measures to reduce tobacco use.
The treaty only becomes binding once the governments of 40 of the 168 countries that signed the treaty have also ratified it at a national level. At present, 34 countries have done so--leaving just six to go.
In Europe, many countries signed the treaty, but few have actually ratified it, Dr. Ullrich told the ESMO congress. "Oncologists should urge their governments to proceed to ratification," he said. "Particularly in Europe, where so many countries have yet to do so."
The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control aims to reduce tobacco use through several measures. It calls on governments to ban tobacco advertising, put warning labels on packaging, and create smoke-free places to protect non-smokers from the effects of tobacco. It also requires governments to act against tobacco smuggling, and prevent the sale of tobacco to minors.
Dr. Mario Dicato, from the European Society for Medical Oncology, endorsed the call for ratification of the treaty. "As a medical organization dedicated to eradicating cancer, ESMO has to endorse all reasonable efforts that will lead to an improvement in tobacco control," he said. "If you want to do anything against cancer, you have to stop smoking."
Dr. Ullrich added that there was good reason to be hopeful that the fight against tobacco would be won--despite opposition from groups with vested interests. "We have to admit that all the actions involved in the treaty entail a large scale of change, and this will not happen without debates," he said. "But with strength of will, we can overcome the obstacles."