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No free trade for cigarettes

Health advocates in Southeast Asia hope the 16th round of the negotiations for the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) would acknowledge tobacco products are harmful and cause disease and death. There are 125 million smokers in the ASEAN region and tobacco related deaths are the top killer. Sadly, these deaths are preventable. Of the 11 countries negotiating this new free trade agreement, four are from the ASEAN region – Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Dr Mary Assunta, Senior policy advisor of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) said, “Tobacco is NOT like any other product.  It kills half of its users, prematurely.  Tobacco is the only consumer product for which there is a global treaty which set international standards for its regulation and the treaty warns Parties to protect their public health policies from the tobacco industry.”

Assunta was referring to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), to which almost all members of the ASEAN are signatories and obligated to reduce tobacco use. The WHO FCTC Article 2.2 says Parties entering into new agreements that may cover tobacco products require that these be “compatible with their obligations under the Convention and its protocols. Additionally Article 5.3 Guidelines, Recommendation 7.1 says the tobacco industry must not be given any incentives to run its business. Hence the TPPA, a new agreement, should reflect this clause.”

Tobacco products should be strictly regulated according to the FCTC and the TPP should not give the tobacco industry opportunities to increase its business or the ability to sue governments at the expense of people’s lives. The TPP should not apply to tobacco products.

“The objective of free trade agreements (FTAs) is market competition that increases product availability and diversity and reduce prices to the consumer,” Assunta acknowledged. “However, these goals are inappropriate for tobacco, as they would result in considerable harm to health. When it comes to tobacco products, ‘cheaper’ and ‘more’ are not better.” She added.

The TPP negotiations, is being held now  to 13 March in Singapore. “As parties to the WHO FCTC strive to implement commitments to reduce tobacco consumption, liberalized trade of tobacco can defeat the purpose of raising domestic tobacco taxes and other tobacco control measures,” SEATCA added. “Trade openness makes tobacco products more easily available, with a greater negative impact on tobacco consumption in low-income countries where most of today’s tobacco consumers live.”

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