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Why Uruguay’s David and Goliath fight with big tobacco really matters

LIMA, Peru — A protracted legal battle in an obscure World Bank tribunal over the principles of market competition in a South American backwater. Even by trade dispute standards, this one sounds arcane — the perfect cure for insomnia perhaps.

But before you nod off, here’s a triple shot of espresso:

Uruguay’s fight with Philip Morris, the world’s largest cigarette manufacturer, just might mark a turning point in the global smoking pandemic that the World Health Organization (WHO) expects to cost up to 1 billion lives this century.

Four out of five of those deaths will happen in developing nations, acting like a ball and chain on those countries’ attempts to grow economically and lift hundreds of millions out of desperate poverty.

Philip Morris, whose brands include Marlboro, is objecting to a 2009 Uruguayan law that requires cigarette packs to be 80 percent covered by health warnings, including graphic photos of cancer victims.

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