climate change

No room for tobacco in free trade agreement

Katherine Visconti
The Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance wants American President Barrack Obama to keep tobacco out of a developing free trade agreement

MANILA, Philippines – The Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) urged American President Barrack Obama to keep tobacco out of the developing Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement.

President Obama announced in November of 2011 that he thought the free trade agreement would boost American exports to a region that he said represented more than 40% of global trade. SEATCA wants to make sure that tobacco is not among the increasing flow of exports.

In a letter dated 16 February 2012 to President Obama SEATCA wrote, “It is not enough to have free and fair trade, we need safe trade too and the tobacco business is not a safe trade. We are appealing to you to carve out tobacco from the TPP.”

Southeast Asia is one of the largest markets for the international tobacco industry, and SEATCA doesn’t want to see the region back-track on tobacco control. “We in Southeast Asia have fought hard to put tobacco control measures in place. We are very concerned that through the TPP, transnational corporations can undo or threaten our governments to roll back the little we have accomplished.”

The TPP would reduce trade barriers between 9 countries–the United States, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam–to encourage economic integration in the Asia-Pacific.

But some economists have pointed out that reducing trade barriers for tobacco will necessarily lead to an increase in cigarette smoking and sales.

The book Tobacco Control in Developing Countries, which was published by the Oxford University Press in 2000 on behalf of the World Bank, established that rising cigarette consumption had been linked to freer trade, with the biggest impact on low- and middle-income countries whose markets may have been more protected previously.

Authors found that after countries’ tobacco markets were open, the market share of US cigarettes ‘rose sharply.

In the letter, SEATCA Director Ms. Bungon Ritthiphakdee pointed out the same trend. She wrote, “In the 1980s the US government through the Trade Representative Office priced open Asian markets which resulted in tobacco use increasing in Asia. We do not want a repeat performance of the US tobacco business might upon Asia.”

The U.S. government through the Food and Drug Administration is currently fighting tobacco companies in court to have picture-based health warnings printed on tobacco packages. In November of 2011, a judge leaned towards the tobacco industry’s side, granting a preliminary injunction to block the government, based on the right to free speech.

Ritthiphakdee argued that it would be difficult for governments to counter the strong tobacco industry and its legal know-how.

She wrote, “The tobacco industry is like a chameleon changing its legal identity to suit itself in fighting tobacco control. For example in suing the Uruguay government, Philip Morris is a Swiss company. In suing the Australian government’s plain packaging laws Philip Morris is a Hong Kong company. It is impossible for a government to protect public health against this elusiveness on the trade platform like the TPP.”

She asked the Obama administration to support the move at the next round of negotiations for the TPP in Melbourne Australia 1-9 March, 2012. She wrote, “We hope health is not sidelined at this round by your administration.” –


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