Is it right to push American tobacco abroad?
Two days ago, Malaysia introduced a proposal to a Trans-Pacific Trade pact being negotiated by Pacific rim nations that would allow complete freedom for participating pact nations to follow tobacco control measures, preventing the tobacco industry and its allies from challenging such measures as a violation of the agreement. The proposal is designed to stop the tobacco industry from challenging tobacco control measures as trade violations, a tactic the industry has used around the world to fight efforts to reduce tobacco use.
American tobacco is still a significant industry, and tobacco interests aim to keep it that way as they argue and lobby for free trade access to Asian Pacific countries. In a New York Times op-ed, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York points out that the recent U.S. position on the trade talks regarding tobacco is a retreat from a previous position of allowing tobacco control measures a ‘safe harbor,’ allowing them to continue without contest from trade partners.
Bloomberg charges that the new U.S. proposal is weak, the result of pressure from the tobacco industry and would allow trade partners to challenge a country’s tobacco control measures.
Data from the Bureau of Labor statistics put employment in the manufacture of tobacco and tobacco products at 13,650. Significant, but to put it in perspective note that total employment in U.S. manufacturing was almost 12 million.
But the real clout of U.S. tobacco comes from the profits. The Tobacco Atlas estimate is that in 2010, profits at the six leading tobacco companies totaled $35 billion.
Those billions of dollars can bring a lot of influence.
Admittedly, a tougher stance on American tobacco and its ability to market product freely abroad can hurt some whose jobs depend on tobacco. This is especially true in the southeastern states of the United States. Tobacco growers in North Carolina and Kentucky, for example, depend on the crop for their livelihood. And it is not only the growers who would be hurt, but it is the suppliers to the famers and their employees that would take a hit. Erica Peterson, the executive vice president of the North Carolina Agribusiness Council, said to Mcclatchydc.com, “There is the fertilizer, the pesticide. There is the dealership that sells the truck to the farmer. … Any of the employees they hire on the farm to payroll …all these folks are going to be impacted.”
But surely, the United States can design a program of direct help to American workers and small businesses that rely on tobacco, while following a policy of expanded trade that would still allow countries to follow sensible public health anti smoking campaigns, including banning advertising and high taxes on the sale of cigarettes.
We already have a program that is supposed to help workers affected by expanding free trade called Trade Adjustment Assistance. The program as now constituted should be expanded, made more generous and flexible to provide more help to trade affected workers than it now does. And perhaps it should be more proactive, getting in to help workers in an industry and a state before disaster of a job losses strike, offering retraining and relocation assistance in anticipation.
All on the assumption that it is not good and humane policy to promote smoking abroad just for the profits that can be had.
The Office of the United States Trade Representative lists the 12 countries currently negotiating the TPT trade pact as Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States, and Vietnam. There has been discussion and debate in Indonesia about becoming a potential partner in the trade pact. However, in January a Jakarta Post news report stated that Indonesia had little interest in joining.
Indonesia needs to step up its anti smoking efforts. Remember the smoking baby photos. One report was that in 2010 he was down to one to two packs per day. Another report put it at 15 cigarettes a day.