The Obama Administration’s Proposal on Tobacco Regulation for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (Part 1)

Susan Liss, the executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, stated, “It is very important for people to understand that the [tobacco] industry is using trade law as a new weapon, and [the Trans-Pacific Partnership] provides an opportunity to put a stop to that.”

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a proposed trade agreement that will be the largest trade agreement since the World Trade Organization (1995). The TPP will include 12 Pacific Rim countries including the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia, Japan and other South Eastern Asian countries. This is said to potentially be Obama’s greatest economic achievement yet. So what does this have to do with tobacco?

This trade agreement, like most trade agreements, will work toward eliminating and lowering tariffs for the countries involved. Trade agreements create more competition resulting in lower prices of goods that benefit most of us, however one of these goods are tobacco products. An important reason why the American Lung Association pushes for higher taxes on tobacco products, especially cigarettes, is that low prices attract youth populations. Trade agreements may create lower prices in participating countries but there are even more taxing problems that can occur from this agreement.

Going into this trade agreement, you could say the Obama administration’s stance on tobacco was similar to that of Susan Liss. Obama proposed to create a safe harbor within the TPP for anti-smoking laws, protecting them from any challenges. Then, around June of 2013, it was leaked that Philip Morris International Inc. was pressing the U.S. for language making it tougher for countries participating in the TPP to implement plain packaging. It seems that Philip Morris’s efforts were well represented and reciprocated because in August, the U.S. introduced a new clause requiring governments to have discussions with each other before proposing tobacco trade challenges.

At first, this didn’t sound too bad to me because governments would bring in health authorities to consult about these issues, and of course health authorities would be for regulating tobacco because of the well-known and science based proof of the harm tobacco causes. But the reality is that this clause will leave room for tobacco companies to bring about challenges and disputes against new and existing tobacco regulations and keep these challenges moving forward. Check back next week for part 2, which will explain potential implications of the new clause.

-Stacy Song


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