Tobacco companies teaming up with U.S. Chamber of Commerce to fight international tobacco control laws

August 10, 2015

In 2012, Australia passed a law requiring that all cigarettes and other tobacco products must be sold in plain packages without company branding. One year later, adult smoking fell by 15%. In countries with a prohibition on direct and indirect marketing of tobacco products, smoking was reduced 5% within three years. A prohibition on smoking in all indoor workplaces can reduce the prevalence of smoking by 6%. In short, we know that regulating tobacco products and the marketing of those products saves lives. Due in part to the work of ACS CAN, many such laws regulating tobacco products have been passed in the United States by Congress, state legislatures, and county and city councils, and other countries are passing their own laws to regulate tobacco and protect their citizens. The tobacco industry, ever despicable in its efforts to increase its profits by getting new consumers addicted and keeping current users from quitting, is fighting these laws wherever and however it can. The tobacco industry is getting help by a representative of all business Š—– the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Š—– in many cases without the knowledge and support of those businesses it represents. Nepal, a country in South Asia, proposed a law last year that would increase the size of graphic warning labels on cigarette packs to cover 90% of the pack, up from the current 75%. Shortly after, one of NepalŠ—Ès top government officials received a letter from the local Chamber of Commerce branch, warning that this proposed law would Š—“negate foreign investmentŠ— and Š—“invite instabilityŠ— in the economy. Then, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce itself reached out to NepalŠ—Ès deputy prime minister on this issue, urging the government to rethink its proposed law, writing, Š—“We are not aware of any science-based evidence that larger GHWs [graphic health warnings] will have any discernible impact on reducing or discouraging tobacco use.Š— (There is.) Nepalese officials have moved forward with the initiative anyway, but cigarette companies have filed for extensions, stalling implementation of this law, which could play a life-saving role encouraging current smokers to quit and keep others from starting. For more information about this case in Nepal, and other examples, read this New York Times article. This example is one of many that illustrate the Chamber of CommerceŠ—Ès lobbying efforts to keep countries from passing laws to regulate tobacco products. In other countries, government officials who have proposed laws aimed at reducing the use of tobacco products have received letters from the Chamber of Commerce as well. Officials have been warned against Š—“extreme measures,Š— saying that commonsense regulations will open the floodgates to smugglers or otherwise disrupt investment and the economy. In some cases, the tobacco industry actually has more money to challenge governments in these lawsuits than the governments have to defend themselves. Bill Gates and Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently came to the aid of Uruguay with additional funds to defend itself in a legal challenge by Philip Morris International. Many members of the Chamber of Commerce were surprised to recently learn of these activities with the tobacco industry. In fact, some local Chambers of Commerce have even been supportive of tobacco control measures, like smoke-free laws, in the past. After continuing revelations about the Chamber of Commerce lobbying on behalf of the tobacco industry, CVS Health Corporation resigned from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. A senior vice president at CVS said in a statement, Š—“We were surprised to read recent press reports concerning the U.S. Chamber of CommerceŠ—Ès position on tobacco products outside the United States. CVS HealthŠ—Ès purpose is to help people on their path to better health, and we fundamentally believe tobacco use is in direct conflict with that purpose.Š— Currently, the tobacco industry tries to use the investment chapter (ISDS) of international agreements to initiate disputes and challenge laws that help reduce smoking and prevent children from starting to smoke. They have sued countries around the world for adopting large warning labels, plain packaging and other tobacco control efforts. The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a trade agreement currently being negotiated between the U.S. and 11 other Pacific rim countries. There is an opportunity in the negotiation of this trade agreement to prevent the tobacco companies from using the agreement to challenge laws aimed at regulating the sale of tobacco products. ACS CAN is working to make sure this is part of the agreement. It remains to be seen if tobacco, and the industryŠ—Ès ability to initiate lawsuits over tobacco control measures, will be addressed in the TPP. Negotiations about what will be in the agreement are still ongoing. In the meantime, please sign our petition to stop tobacco companies from suing countries who regulate tobacco products. For more information, check out these articles: New York Times, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Works Globally to Fight Antismoking Measures Washington Post Editorial, The U.S. Chamber of Commerce should quit lobbying for tobacco abroad New York Times, CVS Health Quits U.S. Chamber Over Stance on Smoking Reuters, Gates, Bloomberg create $4M fund to fight Big Tobacco