Should Cigarettes Enjoy Free Trade Protections?
Foreign governments are increasingly siding with anti-tobacco activists in taking the view that tobacco products should not fall under the free trade rules of normal goods but should instead be treated as "bads" that "need their own set of regulations," the Wall Street Journal reports. In recent international talks on a global tobacco control treaty being pushed by the World Health Organization, a "range of nations expressed support for provisions to emphasize anti-smoking measures over free trade rules." Free trade, "as a rule," increases competition and lowers prices, leading to increased consumption. While normally a "good thing," some say that in the case of tobacco products free trade increases the rate of smoking and tobacco-related deaths. "The benefits of open trade don't apply when you're talking about cigarettes," Ira Shapiro, a consultant to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said. But the United States, siding with the tobacco industry, opposed the free trade restrictions in the WHO talks, and last month the Bush administration "beat back" South Korea's attempt to "sharply raise tariffs on foreign cigarettes." U.S. policy under both the Clinton and Bush administrations has been to contest "only rules imposed to aid local cigarette makers, and not non-discriminatory measures to protect public health," the Journal reports. For example, the U.S. trade representative's office said it opposed the South Korean tariff because it was "discriminatory and aimed at protecting their own industry." David Betteridge, a spokesperson for British American Tobacco PLC of London, added, "There is no justification for creating new structures that undermine or contradict the principles" of international commerce. But anti-tobacco activists counter that public health concerns serve as a valid justification for imposing free trade restriction on tobacco products. "Anything that makes cigarettes more widely available at a lower price is antithetical to public health," Robert Weissman of the corporate-accountability group Essential Action said (Fairclough, Wall Street Journal, 7/23).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.