The U.S. Trade Representative intends to introduce a proposal on tobacco at negotiations to create the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement among 12 nations, at meetings in Brunei this week. The proposal capitulates to multinational tobacco corporations, jeopardizing the nation's health and economic welfare.
Tobacco companies have recently accelerated their use of trade rules to attempt to delay and reverse tobacco control measures that limit marketing in the U.S., Australia, Uruguay, Norway, and Ireland. Trade rules grant corporations rights to contest nations' public health and other policies. Countries that lose trade challenges face stiff financial penalties, payable to the complaining corporation.
Public health and medical advocates in the U.S. and abroad have urged the USTR to exclude tobacco control protections from trade challenges under the TPP. The USTR informally floated a policy in 2012 that could create a "safe harbor" for some tobacco control regulations. Many legal and medical experts noted that tobacco companies could easily exploit the remaining substantial loopholes.
But the tobacco industry marshaled opposition claiming that the U.S. proposal might actually reduce tobacco use, tobacco-related deaths, and tobacco sales. Other corporations backed up Big Tobacco, expressing concern that addressing the uniquely lethal effects of tobacco in trade agreements could set a precedent for reining in their own practices. On Aug. 15, USTR announced it would not advance that proposal.