US Chamber of Commerce involved in pro-tobacco activities: Report

A new report released by a coalition of public interest and health groups details how the US Chamber of Commerce has helped the tobacco industry fight life-saving policies in more than a dozen countries around the world.

Published : 16 July 2015, 06:13 PM
Updated : 16 July 2015, 08:25 PM

The report released on Thursday in Washington follows and builds on a two-part investigation by The New York Times.

The newspaper earlier exposed how the US Chamber and its expansive network of more than 100 local American Chamber of Commerce affiliates had joined the tobacco industry in systematically fighting effective tobacco control policies around the world.

Washington-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK) said the new report features several countries including Singapore, where the US Chamber has used its network to combat proven public health measures.

The report, Blowing Smoke for Big Tobacco, was released by the CTFK, Public Citizen, Corporate Accountability International, the Framework Convention Alliance, Action on Smoking and Health (US), Smoke-Free Partnership, InterAmerican Heart Foundation, Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance, and the African Tobacco Control Alliance.

According to the report, the US Chamber’s tactics include directly opposing countries’ health policies, pitting countries against each other in international trade disputes, and influencing international trade agreements to benefit tobacco companies.

The report shows that the US Chamber’s pro-tobacco activities span the globe and often target low- and middle-income countries vulnerable to bullying by the economic might of the leading US business lobby.

These countries include Burkina Faso, El Salvador, Jamaica, Kosovo, Moldova, Nepal, the Philippines, Uruguay and Ukraine.

The US Chamber has defended its activities on behalf of the tobacco industry, arguing that it is working to protect intellectual property and trademarks.

But the report shows that the US Chamber has fought policies consistent with the international public health treaty, the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which has been ratified by 179 countries and the European Union.

The policies include laws related to smoke-free workplaces and public places, higher tobacco taxes, tobacco advertising bans, graphic health warnings and provisions governing tobacco packages.

“The US Chamber of Commerce should not be using the influence of America’s business community to bully countries working to save lives with effective policies that are supported by science and law,” Matthew Myers, President of the US-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said.

“The Chamber’s pro-tobacco activities harm health around the world and sully the name of American business,” he said in a statement.

“The Chamber must change course and stop advocating for an industry that sells a uniquely lethal product and has a long history of targeting children and engaging in deadly deception”.

The report said although the US Chamber does not publicly disclose its membership list, Altria Group, the largest tobacco company operating in the United Sates, sits on the US Chamber’s board.

In addition, four of the largest multinational tobacco companies – Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco and Japan Tobacco International – hold memberships in more than 55 local AmCham affiliates.

The report includes case studies of the US Chamber’s tobacco lobbying in Uruguay, Burkina Faso, Moldova, the European Union and the Philippines, with an additional list of the US Chamber’s efforts in other countries to oppose a range of tobacco control policies.

The Chamber’s activities, in parallel with the broader efforts of tobacco companies, have in some cases contributed to government officials weakening draft tobacco control policies.

In other cases, its interventions have significantly delayed and complicated the efforts of governments to adopt and implement tobacco control policies.

The public health group in the report urged the governments to reject the misleading arguments and threats of the US Chamber and its affiliates and enact the proven tobacco control measures required by the FCTC treaty.

Governments should protect public health policies from interference by the tobacco industry and its allies, also as required by the treaty.

International trade and investment agreements should protect the sovereign right of governments to adopt public health measures aimed at reducing tobacco use and its harms, they call in the report.

“Governments around the world must know that the US Chamber of Commerce and its affiliates do not represent the US government or the views of the American public, and the US Chamber is not a legitimate authority on public health policies. They also deserve to know exactly who the Chamber is representing,” Myers said.

Tobacco kills about six million people worldwide annually and is projected to kill one billion people this century unless current trends are reversed.

More than 80 percent of these deaths will be in low- and middle-income countries.

Over 40 percent people in Bangladesh use tobacco in any form. World Health Organisation estimates that it kills 57,000 people in Bangladesh every year and affects more than 350,000 people.