TPP and Tobacco

Rare insight into how things work.

President Obama was expected to help stem the flow of tobacco into developing countries with the Trans Pacific Partnership, a free trade agreement that’s been in clandestine negotiations for three years now. Last May, the U.S. Trade Representative outlined a tobacco proposal that would have recognized the uniquely harmful status of the substance and created a “safe harbor” for countries to regulate it within their borders. Public health advocates including Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) applauded the step, while voicing hope that it might be strengthened even further.
The proposal didn’t get far, however, before facing an intense opposition campaign from companies and tobacco state legislators. They’re backed supported by a U.S. business establishment that doesn’t want to see exceptions created for any products on public health grounds, fearing that junk food could be next.
“Nowhere have they said publicly that they think their initial position was mistaken,” says Robert Stumberg, director of Georgetown University’s Harrison Institute for Public Law, of the U.S. trade negotiators. “What they’ve done instead is refer to the criticisms from industry, which is they are creating a precedent that would lead to a slippery slope… Everybody knows that tobacco is the vanguard for control of non-communicable diseases. If they can defend tobacco, they can defend themselves.”
Finally, on Friday the U.S. Trade Representative briefed Stumberg and a group of about a dozen other academics and nonprofits on a change in policy, reported simultaneously by Inside U.S. Trade, that would add steps for countries to justify restrictions on tobacco sales and get rid of the “safe harbor” against trade-related lawsuits.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids slammed the reversal:
The new USTR proposal does not recognize tobacco as a uniquely harmful product or provide a safe harbor for nations to regulate in order to reduce tobacco use, as the initial proposal would have done. The new proposal states the obvious – that tobacco control measures involve public health – and then directs public health officials from the countries that are party to the trade agreement to consult each other before launching tobacco-related trade challenges.
The new plan preserves the status quo, which allows tobacco companies to sue countries over their public health measures on the grounds that they violate free trade rules.
But it also strengthens it: The Trans Pacific Partnership will also make those free trade rules a lot stronger, through provisions lowering tariffs to zero and protecting the use of trademarks (which would support a company’s right to advertise). And countries that can’t afford to fight trade lawsuits that can cost many millions of dollars might just not act to protect their citizens in the first place.

From Wonkblog: How a secretive trade deal could help American tobacco companies hook new smokers


Pandabonium said…
Privatize the profits, socialize the costs is neo-capitalism's battle cry.

Wow, this brings Indonesia to mind. A country trying to figure out what to do about the 1/3 of the children under the age of ten try smoking, and sales have increased 25% in the last ten years.

When will we stop measuring progress in money and instead look at health, happiness, and quality of life?
Pandabonium said…
And here is an article about tobacco companies - including government majority owned Japan Tobacco - quietly entering the Myanmar market. As the local market goes down each year, they are looking for new markets for their brand of death.

Tom O said…
These companies will of course it is people's free will to choose to smoke or not to - they are 'just' providing something that people 'want' (and, er, will of course get addicted to).

Anyway, what a preposterous notion - putting people before profit, pah!
Martin J Frid said…
Thanks for the comments. Malaysia is the country with the best anti-tobacco policies when it comes to TPP countries. I was really impressed by their hardline approach. Japan as usual can't decide if they want to protect public health or promote Japan Tobacco, the state-owned company.

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