Monday, January 04, 2010

U.S. Policy: No Smoking in Other Countries.............Unless They Are American Cigarettes: In That Case, Puff Away As Much as You Can

It looks like we have an early entrant for the 2010 Anti-Smoking Hypocrisy Award: the United States federal government.

According to what is described as an official reflection of U.S. policy by Voice of America News, the nation is spearheading an international effort to prevent people in other countries from smoking. However, at the same time, the campaign aims to protect the international market share of American-made cigarettes.

According to the policy statement: "Partnering with the World Health Organization, the Canadian Public Health Association, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and other groups, it [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] works with nations in Africa and other regions to enhance their capacity to monitor tobacco use and guide national tobacco prevention and control programs aimed at protecting the public's health from the harmful effects of tobacco use. While American companies play a major role in world tobacco markets, the United States government does not promote the sale or export of tobacco or tobacco products. Indeed, U.S. embassies are encouraged to actively assist and promote tobacco control efforts in their host countries."

"At the same time, however, the U.S. opposes discriminatory tobacco-control efforts that target the products of some countries and not others. The overall objective is to ensure that U.S. companies have equal access to what it hopes will be a shrinking global market for tobacco."

The Rest of the Story

It didn't take long in this new year for the striking hypocrisy of the modern-day anti-smoking movement to rear its face. And it did so in a global way: the national effort to prevent people from smoking, while at the same time, working to ensure to protect the ability of U.S.-based tobacco companies to lure international customers to their products.

The United States government is truly speaking out of both sides of its mouth. On the one hand, it is stating that it doesn't want anyone to smoke and that global tobacco use is such a problem that our nation must spearhead efforts in other nations to prevent people from smoking.

On the other hand, the government is saying that it must work to protect the international profits of American tobacco companies by ensuring their ability to compete for the lucrative global tobacco market.

In other words, what we are saying is this: We don't want anyone to smoke, unless of course they're smoking American-made cigarettes.

The federal government's hypocrisy on the issue of tobacco regulation has already come to light. This past November, at the same time that it boasted about its own law that bans cigarette flavorings, the U.S. government opposed a similar Canadian law that would ban cigarette flavorings from tobacco products sold in that country. As explained at, the U.S. delegation to the World Trade Organization meetings opposed the Canadian government's proposed ban on flavored cigarettes, because it would affect the ability of U.S. tobacco companies to sell their products in Canada:

"the U.S. government is a house divided. While some government officials are fighting for greater restrictions on the sale of tobacco products, others are fighting to prevent any more restrictions and balking at the restrictions that other nations have implemented on tobacco sales. Does the right hand know what the left hand is doing?"

"On November 6, FDA posted a special update on its web site, highlighting what its Center for Tobacco Products has done to implement the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. On the list was the statutory ban on cigarettes containing certain characterizing flavors (other than menthol) that went into effect on September 22, 2009. FDA stated that it is also exploring options for regulating both menthol cigarettes and flavored tobacco products other than cigarettes, in efforts to reduce smoking in America; particularly youth smoking. FDA also established mechanisms for the public to report information about possible violations of the law, and has issued Warning Letters to firms who appear to be in violation of the ban."

"Meanwhile, at a World Trade Organization meeting last week, U.S. members joined Mexico and 5 other countries in the Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade in opposing Canada's ban on flavored tobacco products. These members voiced concerns that the ban was too restrictive, since it bans all tobacco products with even one of the listed additives, and that it would impact various countries' exports."

The federal government's hypocrisy is striking. We're so concerned about the impact of tobacco on the public's health that we have banned all flavorings in cigarettes sold in the U.S. However, Canada should not take similar action to protect the health of its own citizens because the profits of U.S. tobacco companies might be affected.

The rest of the story is that the Obama Administration is apparently not changing the federal government's long-standing hypocrisy on the issue of tobacco control. On the one hand, the federal government talks about how bad tobacco use is and how no one should smoke and boasts about how it is taking unprecedented actions to curtail the ability of the tobacco companies to market and sell their products. On the other hand, the government works to protect the profits of our nation's tobacco companies by enacting special protection legislation (i.e., the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act) and acts to make the country reliant upon continued tobacco sales to fund necessary government programs, like children's health insurance.

Unfortunately, this hypocrisy seems to be common in the Obama Administration, which is also boasting about protecting civil rights of citizens while defending a federal law (the Defense of Marriage Act) which deprives same-sex couples of the same rights afforded to other couples and proclaiming its support for women's rights at the same time as it promotes a law that would prohibit private insurance companies in many states from covering abortion.

At this point, I don't even care so much which position the government chooses. I just want it to choose one position or the other so we know where our federal policy makers stand. With the Administration talking out of both sides of its mouth, its policies are inconsistent and incomprehensible and its leadership is standing for nothing.

No comments: