Watchdogs Reveal Chamber of Commerce 'Blowing Smoke' for Big Tobacco

A new report sheds light on the shadowy and coordinated efforts of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the tobacco industry to use intimidation, pressure, and lies to tear down life-save public health protections around the world.

Released Thursday by Tobacco Free Kids, Public Citizen, Corporate Accountability International, and other watchdog groups, (pdf) details the sinister joint efforts of these players in Uruguay, Burkina Faso, Moldova, the European Union, and the Philippines.

“[T]he U.S. Chamber and its AmCham affiliates have joined the tobacco industry in fighting effective tobacco control policies in multiple countries—often without fully disclosing that they are working with the tobacco industry—implying that the full force of the U.S. business community is behind these efforts and that economic harm could result if countries move forward,” states the report.

For example, Burkina Faso passed a law in 2011 requiring graphic warning labels to cover at least 60 percent of packaging for tobacco products. Yet, this mandate has been delayed for years by the tobacco industry and Chamber of Commerce.

“In January 2014, Prime Minister Luc Adolphe Tiao received a letter from the U.S. Chamber warning that the Minister of Health’s graphic warning label proposal violated international intellectual property rights and trade agreements, implying that the tobacco industry might use international trade agreements to entangle the Burkina Faso proposal in costly trade litigation, which as a low-income country it cannot afford,” the report states.

There is just one problem: the Chamber was blowing smoke.


“Contrary to the U.S. Chamber’s claims, to date more than 70 countries and territories have mandated graphic health warnings labels covering 50 percent or more of the product package without being found in violation of international  trade agreements or intellectual property rights,” states the report. In April, the government of Burkina Faso finally issued requirements for graphic health warnings, which are slated to appear on packaging by April 2016.

Watchdog groups argue such regulations are critically important, given the huge threat the tobacco industry poses to public health. According to the World Health Organization, “100 million deaths were caused by tobacco in the 20th century. If current trends continue, there will be up to one billion deaths in the 21st century.”

The report comes amid growing scrutiny of ties between the Chamber and Big Tobacco following recent New York Times exposé. “From Ukraine to Uruguay, Moldova to the Philippines, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its foreign affiliates have become the hammer for the tobacco industry, engaging in a worldwide effort to fight antismoking laws of all kinds, according to interviews with government ministers, lobbyists, lawmakers and public health groups in Asia, Europe, Latin America and the United States,” wrote Times reporter Danny Hakim on June 30.

CVS revealed in early July it is quitting the Chamber of Commerce because of its ties to the tobacco industry.

And pending corporate deals can make things even worse.

Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, which runs U.S. Chamber Watch, told Common Dreams that the power of the Chamber and tobacco industry could grow with mammoth corporate deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership: “One of the reasons that so many folks are concerned about trade deals is the lack of transparency and the way they so obviously put corporate interests ahead. Big Tobacco is part of that problem.”

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