Jun. 14 2001
Washington, DC — In yet another outrageous example of putting the tobacco industry's interests ahead of the public health, the Bush Administration has successfully pressured the South Korean government to scale back plans to impose a 40 percent tariff on imported cigarettes. The South Korean government announced Thursday that it is abandoning plans to impose the 40 percent tariff on July 1 and instead will phase it in over four years.
The Administration's actions raise the alarming prospect that it may be reinstating the U.S. government's harmful policy during the 1980s of using the threat of trade sanctions to force foreign governments to repeal or weaken policies to curtail tobacco consumption and marketing within their borders. The world's most powerful nation should not be using its diplomatic and economic might to promote the interests of the tobacco industry and add to the tremendous toll in disease and death that tobacco use takes around the world.
The 1980s policy succeeded in undermining tobacco control efforts in countries such as South Korea, Japan, Thailand and Taiwan, contributing to an increase in tobacco consumption. In the final days of his Presidency, President Clinton issued an executive order stating, "In the implementation of international trade policy, executive departments and agencies shall not promote the sale or export of tobacco or tobacco products, or seek the reduction or removal of foreign government restrictions on the marketing and advertising of such products." Reversing this policy is one of the tobacco industry's top priorities. The South Korea situation is the first indication that the industry may be getting its way.
We urge the Bush Administration to support and strengthen the current policy, rather than reversing it. At the very least, the Administration should place a moratorium on trade-related actions concerning tobacco and conduct a public health assessment of the impact of its policies before proceeding. Such an assessment would bring to light the substantial evidence that reducing tariffs on cigarettes is bad public health policy because it stimulates price competition, reduces prices and boosts consumption, especially among children.
The Administration's actions in South Korea are but the latest indication that its tobacco policies will benefit the tobacco industry. In recent months, the Administration has failed to ensure adequate funding to continue the federal government's lawsuit against the tobacco industry, sought to weaken the proposed international tobacco treaty (the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control) and appointed key regulators at the Federal Trade Commission who have worked for the tobacco industry. These are all objectives sought by the tobacco industry when it made $8.3 million in political contributions during the last election, much of it to Republicans.
U.S. leadership is sorely needed in combating the global tobacco epidemic, which already kills four million people each year, with that number projected to increase to ten million by 2030. South Korea, with the world's highest adult smoking rates and one of the highest youth smoking rates, is a prime example of how tobacco use is harming health around the globe. The U.S. should be a leader in protecting the public health, not in protecting the tobacco industry's interests.