Negotiations on an international tobacco control treaty failed to make progress last week as anti-smoking groups accused Washington of siding with the tobacco industry in trying to water down the draft.
"The US contribution has been entirely negative: weakening, delaying and deleting anything that might have substance," said Clive Bates of Action on Smoking and Health in London.
Among the provisions said to be under attack by Washington were a proposed ban on descriptions such as low tar, light and mild, an end to duty-free sales and a ban on smoking in public places.
A report published on Friday* by the World Health Organisation said 700m children, or nearly one in two, risked health damage from second-hand smoke, while 250m would die prematurely in adulthood.
Activists also claimed the US was trying to shift big chunks of text from the framework convention now being negotiated to optional protocols which will be tagged on later, as well as diluting the treaty language.
Thomas Novotny, head of the US delegation, denied that Washington wanted an ineffective convention.
However, US officials said that if there were too many binding obligations countries would not be able to sign the pact, the first global health accord which is being negotiated by the World Health Organisation's 191 member states.
Washington's line contrasts with that of many developing countries, notably in Africa, which have argued for strong treaty provisions, including a total advertising ban. A comprehensive ban was omitted from the first draft of the pact after the US and some other countries said it would contravene constitutional protection of free speech.
Celso Amorim of Brazil, who chairs the talks, will prepare a second treaty draft by this summer in preparation for a third negotiating round in November.
* Tobacco and the rights of the child, at tobacco.who.int
- 109 Tobacco