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How Malaysia Gave Me My Mojo Back

By Chris Bostic, ASH Deputy Director for Policy

August 14th was a strange day in my professional life. I have worked to fight the global tobacco epidemic for almost exactly 12 years now, and there have been highs and lows. One of the biggest of each came on that Wednesday. In the morning,  I learned that the Obama administration was backing away from its promise to propose protections for anti-tobacco regulations in the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). See our press release here. My coalition and I had been waiting 15 months for them to propose the measure at the negotiations, and now it was out the window, to be replaced by language that everyone knew would accomplish nothing. Angry and hurt, I had to take a walk to compose myself.

Ninety minutes later, I received very different news. After two years of advocacy, one of the other countries involved in the TPPA – Malaysia – had decided to propose carving tobacco completely out of the agreement, i.e., complete immunity for governments trying to address the tobacco epidemic. This news was so far toward the “too good to be true” end of the spectrum that for about 24 hours I didn’t allow myself to believe it, until a second, independent source verified it. A carve-out has been our goal since early 2011, but we have been told time and again that we’re dreaming.

On Monday, August 26 in Brunei, both the Malaysia carve-out and the U.S. language were formally proposed in the TPPA negotiations. For the first time in history, a tobacco carve-out is on the negotiating table in a free trade agreement. Governments will meet again starting September 9 here in Washington to discuss the issue further. And I will be there with renewed optimism.

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