But tobacco farmers are not part of the game
Mitch McConnell and other pro-tobacco politicians have become very vocal over the past two weeks in their opposition to a potential partial tobacco exemption in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement. And just as in so many other political debates, they are citing the plight of the farmer and rural America. In truth, tobacco leaf has been explicitly left out of any discussion on treating tobacco products uniquely in the TPP; Senator McConnell and his allies are using tobacco farmers as a distraction for their efforts to support the multinational tobacco industry.
The negotiating text of the TPP is secret, but through leaks and anonymous sources, we know of three proposals that would deal with tobacco in the Agreement:
1.) A full carve-out, or exemption, for tobacco measures, proposed by Malaysia in 2013. This would mean that nothing in the free trade agreement would apply to tobacco.
2.) A notation that tobacco measures fall under the general health exception, proposed by the United States in 2013. This pays only lip service to protecting governments’ sovereign right to regulate tobacco.
3.) A carve-out for tobacco measures in the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism, which would prevent the tobacco industry from being able to directly sue governments. This has not been formally proposed, but is apparently supported by a number of countries. This is also the target of the ire of pro-tobacco Members of Congress.
These three proposals have one thing in common: they all refer to “manufactured tobacco products,” a term explicitly meant not to apply to tobacco leaf. Under any of the above measures, tobacco leaf would enjoy the same trade privileges as any other product, including zero tariffs. Regulations to reduce consumption of cigarettes and other tobacco products are at the core of the debate in the TPP.
So why is Senator McConnell using farmers as a shield for the tobacco industry?
As is too often the case in American politics, we need only follow the money.
Mitch McConnell was the second biggest recipient of tobacco industry campaign contributions in the last election cycle, to the tune of $120,475. Two of his most vocal colleagues, Thom Tillis and George Holding, were the 4th and 14th biggest recipients, respectively.
After more than half a century of battling tobacco consumption, and burying 100 million victims in the 20th century alone, it is staggering that there are still powerful people willing to use their clout to protect the tobacco industry.
Senator McConnell, I put it to you: what will your grandchildren think?