Dec. 11 2002
Washington, D.C. — The Bush Administration has once again sided with the tobacco industry and against protecting public health around the world by changing its position at the last minute and agreeing to include a phase-out of tariffs on cigarettes in the U.S.-Chile Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Just a few weeks ago, the Administration seemed to recognize the special, lethal nature of tobacco products and sought to exclude manufactured tobacco products from the tariff reduction commitments of the Chile agreement. Unfortunately, pressure from the tobacco industry caused the Administration to flip-flop that position and support lower tariffs that will allow the tobacco industry to continue to peddle their deadly products worldwide with no regard for the health consequences. U.S. Reps. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) and Henry Waxman (D-CA) said in a statement that as late as this Tuesday the Administration's stated position to congressional staff was that cigarettes would not be included in the trade agreement. However, the final agreement announced today phases out tariffs on tobacco products.
The tobacco industry has sought these kinds of special protections by contributing millions of dollars to federal candidates and political parties, including more than $7.3 million in the last election. Philip Morris was one of the largest contributors, giving more than $3.2 million, 83 percent of it to the Republican Party. Now the industry is expecting a big payback. It is unfortunate that the Administration did not reject the industry's efforts to gain special protection.
It is by now established beyond dispute that increased trade of tobacco products results in a higher incidence of smoking and leads to higher rate of death and disease from smoking-related illnesses, particularly in developing countries. Reducing tariff barriers has the clear and immediate result of increasing trade in the product previously subject to the higher tariffs. Increased trade is, of course, a desirable objective when the products being traded are beneficial. Cigarettes, however, are not a beneficial product, and therefore the presumption in favor of lower trade barriers should not extend to manufactured tobacco products. Cigarettes are the leading preventable cause of death and disease in the world, uniquely addictive and lethal when used as intended, and harmful at any dose level. For these reasons, rather than simply being "legal," the manufacture, sale, advertising and use of tobacco products are subject to special rules in most nations.
This move by the Administration is a signal to other nations that the United States is not concerned about the death, disease, and health care burdens that result from rising rates of tobacco addiction throughout the developing world. If the Administration is concerned about protecting public health instead of tobacco industry interests, it will support excluding manufactured tobacco products from agreements that reduce trade barriers. It should also support a provision in the proposed international tobacco treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), explicitly stating that public health measures enacted in accordance with the treaty are to take priority when they conflict with trade rules.