Target: United States Trade Representative
Goal: Protest the latest version of a trade deal that would allow tobacco companies to dispute foreign restrictions and public health laws
In the works: a public health disaster. Over the next century, tobacco is set to claim over a billion lives. Government sponsored anti-smoking campaigns in the U.S. have helped bring smoking rates in the country to an all-time low. But now, that same government is engaged in talks concerning a trade deal that would allow American tobacco companies to undermine regulations and public health measures in a minimum of 11 countries.
Originally, this deal– the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)– would have treated tobacco as a unique product ‘from a health and regulatory perspective.’ Under this classification, the proposal would protect tobacco restrictions and health regulations of the partner countries from being disputed. However, caving under pressure from lobbyists and the tobacco industry, the Obama administration and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative recently excised this proposal from the Partnership.
Now, tobacco companies will have free rein to challenge restrictions abroad. Companies would be allowed to argue against commonplace ordinances such as mandatory warnings on packages or restrictions on advertising, claiming that they violate free trade agreements. Industry representatives say they would only dispute laws that put foreign imports at an unfair disadvantage against domestic brands. But the reality is that American tobacco companies seek to overturn the same restrictions abroad that they are subject to at home.
A number of the countries involved in the Partnership have poor economies and would be unable to put up much of a fight against the industry giants. Malaysia is especially concerned. After U.S. tobacco companies entered the South Korean market in the 1990s, smoking among young women increased in share from 1.6% to 8.7% within a single year.
Without the tobacco proposal to treat tobacco as a unique product, the progress many countries have made to reduce smoking over the last few decades will be reversed. Removing the proposal doesn’t put foreign and domestic tobacco companies on an equal footing, as the industry claims. Rather, it gives American tobacco an advantage in foreign markets. More importantly, it would destroy those countries’ ability to protect their people from the indisputable dangers of smoking. Lastly, what nobody involved in the TPP talks seems to be saying is just how such an agreement would undermine long held restrictions in the U.S. As the same rules would apply to all countries signing the TPP, companies that contest tobacco restrictions in one country would be allowed to dispute similar laws in any partner country, including the U.S. Ultimately, decades of progress could be undone if the unique product proposal is not included.
Urge the U.S. Trade Representative and the Obama administration to incorporate the proposal to treat tobacco as a unique product into the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Dear Office of the United States Trade Representative,
Of the many objections one might have to your recent removal of the Tobacco Proposal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, most glaring to me is the sheer hypocrisy of the action. The U.S. government has sponsored numerous anti-smoking campaigns, ultimately bringing smoking rates in the country to an all-time low. Now, by excluding the proposal from the TPP, you seek to undermine similar campaigns and restrictions abroad. The logic here seems to go: boost the U.S. economy at the expense of people’s health, just so long as it isn’t your own citizens. Tobacco companies must have smokers or else they go bust, so you kick them from your shores straight to some of the impoverished nations of our world. You’re essentially exporting lung cancer. And so long as cancer boosts the economy, everything possible should be done to increase its prevalence.
I find this policy sickening. Smoking is an extremely serious problem. Tobacco is poised to kill over one billion people this century. Health problems caused by smoking qualify as the number one killer among all non-communicable diseases. It costs the U.S. a hefty fortune and will cost the world countless billions of dollars. It is only sensible that the U.S. government would want to protect its people from the indisputable harm done by tobacco companies. But it is absolutely shameful that you would allow those same companies to undermine similar restrictions abroad.
Please reinstall the TPP Tobacco Proposal. Tobacco is not a harmless product. Restrictions that save lives should be given safe haven from dispute by tobacco companies. As it stands, the Trans-Pacific Partnership is set to reverse decades of progress lowering rates of smoking, cancer and death. Please do your part in fighting to end this public health disaster.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Ted Fu via Flickr