US business threatens New Zealand over tobacco reduction efforts

27 Apr 2012

US business groups threaten New Zealand over its efforts to reduce tobacco use

Statement by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids President Matthew  Myers

WASHINGTON, DC – It is appalling that several prominent US business organisations have threatened retaliation against New Zealand if it pursues innovative proposals to reduce tobacco use.  It sends the wrong message to the world about the priorities of American business when these organisations oppose legitimate measures designed to save lives and fight for the interests of an industry whose products will kill one billion people worldwide this century unless governments take effective action.

On Friday (20 April 2012), the US Chamber of Commerce and five other business organisations issued a statement threatening retaliation against New Zealand if it requires that cigarettes be sold in plain packaging, without colourful logos and other brand imagery.

The letter stated, “We hope the New Zealand government will consider the concerns we have raised for the possible impact on New Zealand exports, such as dairy and wine, should other governments feel emboldened to take similar measures.”  Other organisations on the statement are the TransAtlantic Business Dialogue, the Emergency Committee for American Trade, the National Association of Manufacturers, the US Council for International Business and the National Foreign Trade Council.

These US organisations last year also opposed Australia’s successful effort to enact the world’s first law requiring plain cigarette packaging, which takes effect December 1.  The United Kingdom is also considering a plain packaging requirement. Countries are proposing plain packaging to reduce the appeal of tobacco products to children, increase the effectiveness of health warnings and prevent tobacco companies from using package colours and imagery to imply that some cigarettes are less harmful, as they have often done. These efforts will prevent kids from smoking and save lives.

These countries are exercising their sovereign right to protect the health of their citizens from tobacco use, the world’s number one cause of preventable death.  We would be outraged if foreign businesses threatened the US government when it acts to protect our citizens. We applaud New Zealand Prime Minister John Key for rejecting the US organisations’ arguments and defending his country’s authority to act.
The statement from the US business groups is part of a growing effort by the tobacco industry and its allies to bully countries and prevent them from implementing strong measures to reduce tobacco use.  Increasingly, tobacco companies are challenging tobacco control measures as violations of trade and investment agreements, and they have filed such challenges to Australia’s plain packaging law. 

The business groups’ statement parrots the tobacco industry’s arguments and even trots out the industry’s standard line that the proposal will cause an increase in counterfeit tobacco products, which is what the tobacco industry always argues when facing effective measures to reduce tobacco use.

These actions underscore the importance of excluding tobacco products from trade agreements, beginning with the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that the United States is currently negotiating with eight other countries, including New Zealand and Australia.  The rationale for excluding tobacco products is strong and simple: Tobacco products are uniquely lethal and highly addictive.  Free trade is meant to lower prices and expand consumption of products.  In contrast, there is a global consensus that governments should be doing everything possible to reduce, not increase, consumption of tobacco products.

The US and other nations should reject the influence of the tobacco industry and its allies and act to protect health, not tobacco.

The business groups’ statement can be found at:

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