Uruguay’s Roll Back of Plain… | Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
sign up

Uruguay’s Roll Back of Plain Packaging a Symptom of Big Tobacco’s Influence on Government

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
September 14, 2022

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The government of Uruguay recently announced a new decree that was negotiated in secret with no notice to or input from health leaders – and that will enable the tobacco industry to undermine the country’s landmark plain packaging regulation.  The new decree allows tobacco companies to print information on cigarette sticks and to include inserts in tobacco packs, which tobacco companies can use to market their products in ways the plain packaging legislation was designed to prevent.  The decision by Uruguay’s government is a capitulation to the tobacco industry, a setback for the country’s global leadership in tobacco control and a loss for the health of the citizens of Uruguay. 

Uruguay became the first country in Latin America to require plain packaging of tobacco products in 2019. Pioneered in Australia, plain packaging requires that tobacco packs have a uniform color and texture and prohibits any branding, logos or other promotional elements inside or attached to tobacco products. The measure is meant to reduce the attractiveness and appeal of tobacco products, increase the noticeability of health warnings and reduce the ability of Big Tobacco to mislead consumers about the harms of smoking. The measure has been adopted by dozens of countries around the world and when implemented as part of a suite of proven public health measures, has been a significant driver of reduced smoking rates. 

Uruguay’s recent decision to undermine years of progress in driving down rates of smoking is particularly alarming as the country has long been a worldwide leader in the fight against tobacco use. In 2010, Uruguay was thrust into the global spotlight when the country was sued by the world’s largest multinational tobacco company, Philip Morris International, in an effort to bully the country out of implementing strong tobacco control measures. Instead of backing down, Uruguay defended its laws, ultimately delivering an embarrassing legal blow to Philip Morris.

Yet under the Lacalle Pou administration, the government has put the interests of the tobacco industry ahead of the health of all Uruguayans. President Lacalle Pou has admitted that the change to Uruguay’s plain packaging regulations was requested by the tobacco industry – and this is not the first time the Lacalle Pou Administration has given the tobacco industry exactly what it wants. Prior to the administration’s decision on plain packaging, the government reversed a decree that had banned the sale of heated cigarettes like IQOS and Glo. 

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is urging President Lacalle Pou to reverse this misguided decree. Now more than ever, the government of Uruguay needs to redouble its commitment to public health, not open the door for tobacco companies to market their deadly products and lure new consumers into a lifelong addiction. Tobacco use is the world’s leading cause of preventable death, killing more than 8 million people worldwide each year. The world needs leaders willing to stand up to Big Tobacco, not cave to their interests.