Exceptions leave too many openings for aggressive tobacco companies

WASHINGTON, DC. 21 February – Negotiators of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement are currently meeting in Singapore in the hopes of ironing out a set of thorny political issues remaining after years of talks. Among the most important of those issues is the treatment of tobacco in what will become the largest regional trading bloc in the world. It is imperative that the negotiating countries accept only a complete exemption for tobacco in the Agreement. Half-measures will give the tobacco industry avenues to block or overturn public health goals.

Over the past three decades, the tobacco industry has increasingly used trade and investment agreements to litigate against laws and regulations meant to diminish the estimated 1 billion deaths this century expected from tobacco use. Such suits cost governments millions in legal costs, win or lose, and are an attempt to dissuade governments from even attempting to protect future generations from the disease and death caused by tobacco.

Last August, Malaysia took a bold step by proposing to exempt, or “carve-out” tobacco entirely from the TPP, meaning that tobacco control measures would be immune to lawsuits under the Agreement. The public health community enthusiastically agreed, calling on the U.S. and other TPP governments to endorse the proposal. The dozens of groups in the U.S. calling for strong action on tobacco in the TPP, representing hundreds of thousands of individual doctors, lawyers and public officials, include the American Public Health Association, the American Medical Association, the American Cancer Society, and the National Association of Attorneys General.

Law Professor Jane Kelsey of the University of Auckland has released an analysis of the pitfalls of settling for less than a full carve-out. The analysis is based on years of research and experience in dealing with the tobacco industry. The best safeguard against the tobacco industry is a concise, explicit statement excluding tobacco products from the agreement entirely.

Tobacco is unique – it is the only consumer product that kills when used exactly as intended, ending nearly 6 million lives a year. It is by far the world’s leading cause of preventable death, responsible for about 1 in 5 of all deaths. It should not be treated the same as other commodities in global trade.