Uruguay President Applauded for Urging President Obama to Support His Nation’s Long Fight Against Big Tobacco

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

May. 12 2014

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, President José Mujica of Uruguay delivered a forceful argument for support of his country’s strong tobacco control laws in a White House meeting with President Obama. President Mujica stood beside the President of the United States and expressed Uruguay’s determination to stand up for its right to adopt strong laws to protect its citizens against tobacco in the face of a lawsuit brought by Philip Morris International.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and public health leaders across the globe stand with Uruguay and President Mujica. Uruguay has a right to enact laws to protect its citizens against the death and disease caused by tobacco. Philip Morris’ lawsuit against Uruguay is without merit and is an abuse of the international trade system. Philip Morris International thought it could bully Uruguay, a nation of just 3.3 million people, but Uruguay has proven Philip Morris wrong.

The Philip Morris case against Uruguay raises fundamental questions about the right of Uruguay, the United States or any other country to adopt laws to protect the public health of its citizens. Increasingly, Philip Morris and other tobacco companies are challenging tobacco control measures as violations of trade and investment agreements. The U.S. and other nations should join with Uruguay to stop them from continuing to do so.

President Mujica told President Obama:

…in the world, per year, eight million people are dying from smoking…. It’s murder. We are in an arduous fight – very arduous – and we must fight against very strong interests. Governments must not be involved in private litigation, but here we're fighting for life. And nobody must be distracted in this fight for life, because out of all values, the most important one is life itself.

In February 2010, Philip Morris International filed its legal challenge against Uruguay’s strong tobacco control laws, in particular measures that require large, graphic health warnings and limit each cigarette brand to one pack design, eliminating misleading labels such as “light” and “low-tar” that falsely imply some cigarettes are less harmful. The case is currently being heard by an arbitration panel formed by the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), an organization affiliated with the World Bank.

It’s no surprise Philip Morris has filed this challenge given Uruguay’s success in reducing tobacco use. A 2012 study published in The Lancet medical journal showed dramatic reductions in smoking in Uruguay. From 2005 to 2011, per-person consumption of cigarettes decreased by 4.3 percent per year and the adult smoking rate fell by 3.3 percent a year. From 2003 to 2009, rates of tobacco use among Uruguayan students aged 13, 15 and 17 decreased by eight percent a year.

 

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