A tobacco tyrant’s tasteful tactics…

Uruguay. Togo. Ukraine. Moldova. Philippines. Nepal.  Those are just a few of the countries that Philip Morris – the tobacco tyrant – have decided to sue.  What is Philip Morris suing them for? For implementing public health laws that protect their citizens against the dangers of smoking – such as plain packaging laws. Does Philip Morris have anyone on their side in this legal battle? Oh you know, just the US Chamber of commerce.  Thus, to summarize, the US Chamber of commerce is using its clout to cripple anti-smoking laws worldwide (http://nyti.ms/1M88wTZ).

Before delving any further into the tobacco issue, it is important to unravel what exactly the US Chamber of Commerce is.  Essentially, it is a U.S. lobbying group that includes many large businesses, including of course our favorite – Philip Morris. Which by the way has one of its top executives on the board of the US Chamber of Commerce.  Crucially, the US Chamber of Commerce is not part of the US government.  However, intentionally blurred lines masque this distinction, solidifying the common misinterpretation that the US Chamber of Commerce represents the US government.  For example, in Estonia the U.S. ambassador is also conveniently the president of the US Chamber of Commerce’s affiliate in Estonia (http://nyti.ms/1M88wTZ).

You may have read my post a few weeks ago about the TPP- which in a nutshell, is a very, very bad deal for medicine.  The sad thing is, originally, there was one segment of the TPP which wasn’t so terrible.  Earlier drafts of the partnership deal included a provision that protected nations from tobacco companies interfering with already implemented local public health laws.   Unfortunately, Obama scrapped this provision (under the pressure of the tobacco tyrants) and replaced it with a measly clause ‘stating’ – even that is a strong word –  how before a government can change tobacco regulations, health authorities must ‘discuss the measure’ (http://nyti.ms/1CWBD7C).  So even though the US Chamber of Commerce is not a part of the US government, it isn’t completely exonerated from hindering anti-tobacco laws as the US government voted yes to fast-track the TPP.

Now that I’ve given you the background I’ll take you through the details of Philip Morris’s baseless legal attack  – which is tantamount to bullying – on Uruguay.  This country requires tobacco manufacturers to cover at least 80% of packages with medical warnings (http://n.pr/1JK4kfS).  Philip Morris (PM), of course, didn’t like this.  As a result, they managed to dig up a 1991 treaty law between Uruguay and Switzerland (which is where PM is located).  This treaty administers protection to investments made in Uruguay – which include ongoing business enterprises (http://bit.ly/1CWCZzf).  PM claims that ‘the percentage of warning labels that are required on cigarette packs in Uruguay goes beyond what is reasonable to protect people from the harmful effects of smoking,’ (http://n.pr/1JK4kfS).  Therefore, PM’s lawsuit against Uruguay is based on their allegation that the packaging laws defy the trade agreement without a good cause.

What PM doesn’t have on their side though is good old scientific evidence.  A study done through a collaboration between a university in Uruguay and MIT revealed that smoking in Uruguay has decreased annually by 4.3% between 2005 and 2011.  The packaging laws were introduced in Uruguay 2006 (http://n.pr/1JK4kfS).  Several other studies have also demonstrated that graphic images on cigarette packs reduces smoking (http://bit.ly/1LOpI2U).  Hence, PM’s claim that ‘the percentage of warning labels that are required on cigarette packs in Uruguay goes beyond what is reasonable to protect people from the harmful effects of smoking,’ is wrong because studies prove that the exact opposite is true.  The warning labels on the cigarette packs do protect people from the harmful effects of smoking.

To finish, I’ll leave you all with a statement that perfectly encapsulates the ridiculousness of this all: “In 2013, tobacco industry profits reached more than US$44.1 billion at the cost of 6.3 million deaths; equivalent to around US$7,000 for each death caused by tobacco” (http://bit.ly/1M8ln8U).

-Pauline Bagatelas, Rethink Aid Intern

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