Pretty soon, if U.S. representatives negotiating a secretive trade deal get their way, tariffs on tobacco in poor Asian countries will sink to zero — and those countries will have a hard time protecting their citizens against a tidal wave of cheaper cigarettes.
Over several decades, the U.S. has relentlessly fought tobacco use. Anti-smoking ad campaigns, prominent warning labels, smoking bans and high taxes have had their desired effect: The smoking rate has been dropping for decades and this year reached anew low of 18 percent among people over age 18.
Now, the U.S. is pushing to help tobacco companies find new customers overseas, by allowing them easier access to developing countries in Asia through a sweeping trade deal that would make it more difficult for countries to pass the kinds of laws that reduced smoking in the U.S.
“If those markets are transformed, you are going to see an epidemic of enormous proportions among those least prepared to pay for it,” says Greg Connolly, director of the Center for Global Tobacco Control at Harvard. “We’re basically turning around and siding with the actual agents of that disease, and enhancing their ability to claim a billion lives in a century.”