Malaysia is taking the lead on two fronts to prevent the use of trade and investment agreements from blocking anti-smoking measures, but will these initiatives succeed?
SMOKING cigarettes is the number one preventable cause of death. Six million people die each year from tobacco use and this number will rise to eight million by 2030, most of them in developing countries.
Almost 200 countries signed the World Health Organisation’s Tobacco Control Convention and are obliged to take measures to curb tobacco use.
But the industry has hit back. A big tobacco company, Philip Morris, has taken Uruguay and Australia to tribunals under bilateral investment treaties, claiming billions of dollars in compensation for the two countries’ measures to have big warning signs and small or no brand logos on cigarette packets.
Under trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), companies can similarly sue governments, claiming loss of profits resulting from policy measures. At the World Trade Organisation, cases are also being taken against countries for their tobacco control measures.
Now for the good news. Many governments are fighting back against the Big Tobacco onslaught, with Malaysia taking a lead role on two important fronts: the Tobacco Control Convention and the TPPA.
Malaysian non-governmental organisations such as the Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control and the Bantah coalition have linked up with government health and trade authorities to forge a position to exclude tobacco control measures from all the TPPA’s disciplines.
The Malaysian initiative won it bouquets from international health groups and theNew York Times published an editorial urging the United States to support it. Even attorneys-general of many states in the United States supported it.
However, reports indicate that the Malaysian position is not acceptable to the United States. The tobacco lobby is fighting hard and the United States is proposing a weaker kind of exclusion, which health groups view as inadequate.
Last week, Malaysia led a move at the Tobacco Control Convention’s Conference to thwart the tobacco industry’s use of trade and investment agreements to block anti-smoking measures.
by MARTIN KHOR.