Tobacco-State Politicians: Grow Up and do the Right Thing on TPP
If Republican senators from tobacco-growing southern states believe in social responsibility, they would fully explore the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), including provisions that influence the ability of American tobacco corporations to flood the globe with cheap, cancer-causing cigarettes.
So says Peter Benson, associate professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis and the author of a book on the history, social costs, and global politics of the tobacco industry.
“One of the great paradoxes of tobacco,” he said, “is that while the U.S. government and public health community became increasingly aware of the harms of tobacco, the trade wing of the American government has been busy fighting for the expansion of new markets in the developing world, where they want people to purchase American-made cigarette products.”
Benson has conducted years of research on the tobacco industry, including months working alongside farmers and migrant workers in the tobacco fields of North Carolina.
In recent decades, Benson noted, tobacco companies have sent U.S. tobacco farms into crisis by switching to cheaper foreign tobacco sources, while coaching U.S. growers to blame the state, public health, and minorities for the financial hardship and vilification often felt by the growers.
The industry uses international trade agreements and corporate responsibility campaigns to subvert anti-tobacco health initiatives and continue marketing tobacco in developing countries where demand is still growing, according to Benson.
“The American Chamber of Commerce has been advocating on behalf of tobacco companies for the TPP because the TPP would lower tariffs and lower taxes on American-made cigarettes,” Benson said. “So tobacco companies really stand to gain a lot from TPP and the further globalization of tobacco products hinges on the continued American support for free trade agreements like the TPP.”
World health officials lobbied hard to carve out an exclusion for tobacco products in the TPP that prevents American tobacco companies from using the agreement to file lawsuits blocking anti-smoking public health initiatives within the 12 participating countries.
Several Republican member of Congress are raising concerns about the tobacco carve-out and threatening to prevent TPP’s approval in Congress. While they contend the tobacco carve-out sets a bad precedent for limits on other U.S. agricultural products, some suspect the real concern is a possible loss of votes in southern states with a strong tobacco-industry influence.
“Everyone knows that smoking is dangerous and at a time when corporations, including tobacco companies, push how socially responsible and transparent they are, pushing a dangerous product in developing countries seem hypocritical at best,” Benson said.