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The International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union) and other international health experts monitoring the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement negotiations taking place this week are urging governments to be mindful of the relationship between international trade agreements and national public health policies.

The TPP is a free trade agreement involving 12 countries that are part of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC): Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, USA and Vietnam. In order that this agreement does not become a weapon for the tobacco industry, most public health experts agree that the treaty should explicitly exclude tobacco products. This exclusion would help prevent tobacco companies from interfering with governments' sovereign rights to protect public health through tobacco control laws.

"The tobacco industry is well known for using the terms of trade agreements to try and stop governments' efforts to reduce tobacco-related disease and death through tobacco control legislation. Taking governments to court is part of their global strategy and a tactic they will continue to exploit," says Dr Ehsan Latif, Director of The Union's Department of Tobacco Control.

Most recently, Philip Morris Switzerland challenged Uruguay's tobacco packaging policies under a bilateral investment treaty between Switzerland and Uruguay. Similarly, Philip Morris Asia challenged Australia's introduction of plain tobacco packaging under a bilateral investment treaty between Australia and Hong Kong. This latter challenge was only possible because Philip Morris Asia acquired interest in Philip Morris Australia immediately after Australia's plain packaging measures were announced. Clearly, the tobacco industry is prepared to evolve to take advantage of the litigation potential afforded by investment treaties. Even when these challenges are unsuccessful, they can delay the implementation of health policy. More importantly, the potentially significant costs to governments to defend this type of legal challenge can deter countries from adopting and enforcing health policy.

The Union has worked with the governments of over 35 low- and middle-income countries, including Chile, Mexico and Vietnam (all involved in the TPP negotiation) to develop and implement life-saving tobacco control policies – and also learn how to overcome tobacco industry strategies at every level from free cigarette give-aways to court cases.

The tobacco pandemic is one of the greatest health challenges facing low- and middle-income countries. Tobacco use kills six million people worldwide each year and that figure is set to increase to 10 million by 2030. More than 80% of these deaths will occur in the developing world.

"While trade agreements are essential to our global economy, The Union urges governments to carefully consider the implications of any that include tobacco products", says José Luis Castro, Interim Executive Director of The Union. "After a few years, these agreements can have a detrimental impact on the effectiveness of a country's public health policies."

 

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