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BOLLYKY: Smoke and Mirrors  

It's time for Washington to stop giving cigarette makers an open door to developing markets.
Jump to full article: Foreign Policy Magazine, 2011-01-19


This week marks 10 years since President Bill Clinton signed an executive order, which remains in effect, requiring U.S. agencies to take "strong action to address the potential global epidemic of diseases caused by tobacco use." While the intervening decade has seen significant efforts to reduce smoking domestically, Washington continues to do too little to address the expanding tobacco use in developing countries and its devastating consequences.

At home, the U.S. government is cracking down on tobacco. . . .

Abroad, however, U.S. engagement on tobacco control is minimal. The United States has yet to join the 171 countries that have ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control . . .

Multinational tobacco companies are exploiting U.S. and other affluent countries' trade policies to pursue these tactics and outmaneuver developing-country regulators. Increasingly, multinational tobacco companies use dispute resolution under trade and investment agreements to block labeling and advertising restrictions in low- and middle-income countries. Free trade agreements reduce tobacco product tariffs before developing countries can introduce adequate domestic tobacco control and taxation programs to compensate for the lower price of imported cigarettes. . . .

Fortunately, it's an especially opportune moment for U.S. leadership on international tobacco control. The scientific consensus that to­bacco use and secondhand smoke cause a plague of terminal and disabling diseases no longer faces serious challenge. The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is among the most widely subscribed treaties in the world and provides a blueprint for acting on the most evidence-based and cost-effective strategies for global tobacco control. A $500 million, multiyear commitment from the Bloomberg Initiative and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has injected sorely needed resources into tobacco-control programs in 20 priority developing countries. Anti-smoking NGOs like the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and the Framework Convention Alliance are doing groundbreaking work on global tobacco control and would be capable U.S. government partners. Increased U.S. engagement on global tobacco control can transform this momentum into sus­tainable progress. . . .

The United States must not wait another 10 years to demonstrate internationally the same leadership it has shown on tobacco control domestically. Obama has said he supports the WHO framework convention; but he should not wait for the Senate to ratify it before integrating tobacco control into existing U.S. efforts on maternal and child health, disease control, and health-systems strengthening.

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