Tobacco control advocates urge Obama: Take tobacco out of free trade talks

Tobacco control advocates in Southeast Asia, one of the largest markets for an international tobacco industry, urged US president Barrack Obama to “carve out” tobacco from a free trade agreement being crafted for the Pacific region.
In a letter dated 16 February 2012 to President Obama, the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) said, “It is not enough to have free and fair trade. We need safe trade, too, and the tobacco business is not a safe trade.”
Below is the full text of the SEATCA letter to President Obama:

16 February 2012

The President of the United States

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.

Washington, DC 20500 USA

Dear Mr President,



We are writing to you about the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement currently being  

negotiated and wish to raise several concerns with you. It is not enough to have free and fair trade,  

we need safe trade too and the tobacco business is not a safe trade. We are appealing to you to  

carve out tobacco from the TPP. Below we cite our reasons.  


There are over 40 countries in the world that have pictorial health warnings on cigarette packs, but  

when these sovereign governments try to protect their public health by increasing the size of the  

warnings, tobacco companies like Philip Morris take them to court using bilateral trade agreements.  

Your administration is facing a lawsuit by tobacco companies, preventing the FDA from applying  

pictorial health warnings. What chances do small governments like Uruguay have in the face of  

wealthy and powerful transnational corporations? We in Southeast Asia have fought hard to put  

tobacco control measures in place. We are very concerned that through the TPP, transnational  

corporations can undo or threaten our governments to roll back the little we have accomplished.  


The tobacco industry is like a chameleon changing its legal identity to suit itself in fighting tobacco  

control. For example in suing the Uruguay government, Philip Morris is a Swiss company. In suing the  

Australian government’s plain packaging laws Philip Morris is a Hong Kong company. It is impossible  

for a government to protect public health against this elusiveness on the trade platform like the TPP.  


In the 1980s the US government through the Trade Representative Office priced open Asian markets  

which resulted in tobacco use increasing in Asia. We do not want a repeat performance of the US  

tobacco business might upon Asia. Eight out of the nine countries negotiating the TPP are Parties to  

the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). Through the FCTC the Asia Pacific  

region has made advancement in tobacco control. It seems logical for the eight countries to exclude  

tobacco from the TPP. We are appealing to your administration not to block this move. The next  

round of negotiations is taking place in Melbourne Australia 1-9 March, 2012. We hope health is not  

sidelined at this round by your administration.  


Mr President, when you signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act in June  

2009, you sent a message to the world that the US has a strong stand on tobacco control. We urge 

you to continue to reflect that position in the TPP and put health before trade.

Thank you for your kind consideration.

Sincerely yours,

Ms. Bungon Ritthiphakdee

SEATCA Director

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