[A2k] Washington Post: How a secretive trade deal could help American tobacco companies hook new smokers

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Thu Aug 22 02:03:21 PDT 2013


How a secretive trade deal could help American tobacco companies hook new

By Lydia DePillis <http://wapo.st/14jm7Sw>, Published: August 21 at 9:00 am*

Pretty soon, if U.S. representatives negotiating a secretive trade deal get
their way, tariffs on tobacco in poor Asian countries will sink to zero —
and those countries will have a hard time protecting their citizens against
a tidal wave of cheaper cigarettes.

Over several decades, the U.S. has relentlessly fought tobacco use.
Anti-smoking ad campaigns, prominent warning labels, smoking bans and high
taxes have had their desired effect: The smoking rate has been dropping for
decades and this year reached a new low
18 percent among people over age 18.

Now, the U.S. is pushing to help tobacco companies find new customers
overseas, by allowing them easier access to developing countries in Asia
through a sweeping trade deal <http://www.ustr.gov/tpp> that originally
enhanced their ability to protect citizens, and may now do very little.

“If those markets are transformed, you are going to see an epidemic of
enormous proportions among those least prepared to pay for it,” says Greg
Connolly <http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/gregory-connolly/>, director of the
Center for Global Tobacco Control at Harvard. “We’re basically turning
around and siding with the actual agents of that disease, and enhancing
their ability to claim a billion lives in a century.”

The world’s four biggest cigarette manufacturers — Altria (formerly Philip
Morris), British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco and R.J. Reynolds — have
been looking to new markets to offset their domestic losses for decades.
During the 1980s and 1990s, U.S. trade officials were a big help,
negotiating bilateral measures that helped pry open markets for American
companies. Smoking rates soared, to the point of shaming Congress into banning
U.S. agency personnel
promoting tobacco sales, which President Bill Clinton extended by executive
order in 2001.

That didn’t stop the tobacco companies, though. When other nations try to
take steps such as limiting marketing to children and banning flavored
cigarettes, Philip Morris and the others complain to the World Trade
Organization that the country’s actions unfairly discriminate against
imported goods, as the WHO documented in a
year. For example, there are currently cases pending against Uruguay
and Australia over their decisions to require cigarettes to be sold in
either completely generic or very prominently labeled packaging.

President George W. Bush strengthened the companies’ hand by refusing to
join the WHO’s key international agreement on tobacco
and lobbying
to weaken some of its key provisions, allowing international sales to take
off: [Chart not shown]

The trajectory of Philip Morris’ sales–with international in pink and
domestic in blue. (Source: Philip Morris annual reports, collected by the
Harvard School of Public Health)

President Obama was expected to help stem the flow of tobacco into
developing countries with the Trans Pacific
a free trade agreement that’s been in clandestine negotiations for three
years now. Last May, the U.S. Trade Representative outlined a tobacco
page is down now, but it’s preserved
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
step, while voicing hope that it might be strengthened even further.

The proposal didn’t get far, however, before facing an intense opposition
companies and tobacco state legislators. They’re backed supported by a U.S.
business establishment
<http://www.ecattrade.com/#!__tpp-news-and-info>that doesn’t
want to see exceptions<http://www.tppcoalition.org/documents/Business%20and%20Ag%20Association%20Letter%20on%20TPP%20to%20Ambassador%20Froman.pdf>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
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
*Inside U.S. Trade*, that would get rid of the “safe harbor” against
trade-related lawsuits. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids slammed the

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.

U.S. Trade Representative Froman said in a

“Developed following extensive consultations with Congress and with a wide
range of American stakeholders – from health advocates to farmers,
representing many views on whether and how to address tobacco-related
health policy measures in a trade agreement – this proposal will, for the
first time in a trade agreement, address specifically the public health
issues surrounding tobacco – preserving the ability of the United States
and other TPP countries to regulate tobacco and to apply appropriate public
health measures, and bringing health and trade officials together if
tobacco-related issues arise – while remaining consistent with our trade
policy objectives of negotiating a comprehensive agreement that does not
create a precedent for excluding agricultural products. We will continue to
keep our Congressional partners and stakeholders informed and involved as
we negotiate this challenging and important issue with TPP partners, many
of whom will be taking into account the same range of concerns.”

Bill Corr, the deputy secretary of the Department of Health and Human
Services, also issued a statement late Wednesday:

“HHS believes the proposed tobacco language in the Trans-Pacific
Partnership trade negotiation will make a difference for tobacco control
and public health efforts. The U.S. Government seeks to include this
language because tobacco is a unique product – it is highly addictive,
always harmful to human health, and the single most preventable cause of
death in the world. Recognizing these facts about tobacco through the TPP
will represent an important step forward for public health in the
international trade community.”

* *Correction: This post originally reported that the new policy would
require treaty parties to take additional steps before passing laws to
protect public health. In fact, as clarified in the USTR’s
*, the additional step–of consulting the parties’ public health
authorities–would come before one country lodged a tobacco-related trade
complaint against another. *

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