Tobacco products should be exempted from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, in order to retain policy space for all TTIP partners to address this most destructive cause of preventable disease. This is not anti-trade, but the goals and benefits of trade are not compatible with tobacco. Trade has the potential to improve lives, while tobacco devastates lives, providing no benefit whatsoever to its addicted consumers. Here are the arguments for a full exemption.
1. Tobacco is the world’s leading killer. Nearly 6 million people die every year, and that number is rising. By the end of the century, we risk a billion premature deaths, ten times the toll of the 20th century. Three-hundred and fifty million of those victims have not been born yet, and their fate is not sealed. We can still save them.
2. There is a global consensus on how to deal with the tobacco epidemic, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The U.S. has signed this treaty, and every member state of the European Union, as well as the EU itself, has ratified it.
3. The tobacco industry has consistently abused international trade and investment rules to stall, block or roll-back implementation of the tobacco treaty. Trade is the strongest arrow in their litigation quiver, and TTIP as it is currently envisioned is a dream come true for an industry that kills half of its customers.
4. While health exceptions are built in to many trade systems, those systems did not envision an industry that would use trade rules to create legal chill. It is clear from past trade and investment disputes that the tobacco industry need not win trade disputes to achieve their goal. The cost of litigation is a barrier unto itself, and many small governments simply cannot afford to win these disputes. We already have examples of countries, even wealthy countries, which have delayed or discarded plans to advance tobacco control legislation due to the threat of trade litigation.
5. The incompatibility of trade liberalization and tobacco is already recognized under U.S. law. The Doggett and Durbin Amendments, as well as Presidential Executive Order 13913, prohibit federal agencies from promoting the sale or export of tobacco products. These laws have been ignored in recent trade negotiations.
6. The U.S. has joined the world on a path to addressing the growing problem of non-communicable diseases, or NCDs. The leading risk factor for NCDs is tobacco use, and the UN Political Declaration on NCDs, which the U.S. joined, calls for accelerated implementation of the tobacco treaty. By giving the tobacco industry new tools to block meaningful tobacco regulation, the U.S. undermines the NCD initiative and reneges on its promises.
7. The slippery slope argument is a red herring. The tobacco exception that the U.S. has drafted – but not tabled – for the Trans-Pacific Partnership recognizes the unique nature of tobacco in international trade.
Finally, half measures or weak exceptions will not address the core problem. Complicated legal tests and chapter exclusions invite litigation and increase legal chill. The easiest and most elegant solution is a blanket exclusion for tobacco products.