More than 170 countries were taking up measures Friday to regulate flavored tobacco products out of concern they seek to get young people addicted to nicotine.
During a World Health Organization (WHO) meeting of the signatories of the body's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control that ends Saturday in this upscale resort town in southern Uruguay, parties planned to define guidelines on tobacco product ingredients.
They also sought to draft a protocol on illicit tobacco trade and, for the first time, debate pricing, taxation and controls of so-called electronic cigarettes.
The battery-powered devices have no tobacco but deliver a dose of nicotine to the user, while producing water vapor that looks like smoke. Used in a number of countries, they are promoted as a way to quit smoking.
"There are hundreds of chemicals used to make smoking more attractive, mainly focused on the young people," said Antoon Opperhuizen, special adviser to the framework convention and vice-Chair of the WHO Tobacco Laboratory Network.
Canadian Cancer Society senior policy analyst Rob Cunningham explained that "tobacco producers are bringing more and more flavored cigarettes on the market - with chocolate, vanilla and candy flavors that attract youths."
Representatives of the tobacco industry, which fiercely opposes the regulations saying they would hurt their powerful industry, pitched a tent outside the hotel where the WHO meet was taking place to present their views.
Producers claim flavored products represent half of global consumption and use three types of tobacco leaves: Virginia, Burley and Oriental. They worry the regulations would trigger bans of some of their most popular products.
"If we prohibit production of the American blend, which is made with a mix of Virginia, Burley and Oriental leaves, it will impact more than six million producers worldwide," said Antonio Abrunhosa, a Portuguese tobacco-farmer who serves as chief executive of the International Tobacco Growers' Association (ITGA).
Articles 9 and 10 of the framework convention call for guidelines to regulate contents and emissions of tobacco products, as well as measures to require tobacco manufacturers and importers to disclose information about the contents and emissions of their products, including toxic ones.
The provisions would "basically eliminate production of Burley and Oriental tobacco, making it an act of discrimination that would not solve the health problem because people would keep smoking other tobacco products," ITGA vice-president Jorge Nestor told AFP.
He also said any proposal should allow production activities that would be "economically sustainable over time."
Uruguay is facing a lawsuit from tobacco giant Philip Morris for its anti-tobacco measures. But it received support Thursday from the framework convention's signatories.
The country is the first in Latin America to introduce a tobacco ban - in March 2006 - and the fifth worldwide.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and eight international organizations have also backed Uruguay in its dispute with Philip Morris, whose annual turnover is about twice the gross domestic product of the nation of some 3.4 million people.