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US Lags Behind in Tobacco Regulation

Posted by Brooke Shelby Biggs on December 20th, 2005
CorpWatch Blog

It isn't new for the United States to fall behind the rest of the world on causes like global warming and arms control. But this week, news from the rest of the world reveals how much more seriously the tobacco problem is being addressed, even in the tiny, poverty-stricken country of Uganda.

The government of Uganda is considering banning all tobacco advertising in that country, because ministers consider the ads to imply falsely that smoking is an attractive and positive thing to do.

In China, the world's greatest consumer of tobacco products, the governors of Hong Kong may force several tobacco companies to change the names of their brands, because terms like "light" and "mild" imply that the cigarettes are less harmful.

In South Australia, the government is set to ban fruit-flavored cigarettes it claims are targeted to children. (You think?)

In the UK, the 2006 budget includes provisions for massive fines on tobacco companies whose product is found being smuggled anywhere in the world.


Meanwhile, back at the ranch ... a new study from a coalition of anti-tobacco groups shows that tobacco companies in the United States still spend $28 in advertising for every $1 they spend on anti-tobacco cessation and education programs.

After a series of high-profile lawsuits that mandated some of Big Tobacco's profits go to public service education campaigns, the industry has spent a lot of time and money advertising its altruistic side, while far less is being spent actually funding those community programs being hyped.

And there is always more. Just yesterday, a study showed that Indiana -- a major tobacco-growing state -- actually loses money because of tobacco. Profits and tax revenue generated by tobacco production and sales is far outweighed by the resulting costs associated with health-care and decreased productivity due to tobacco-related illness and death.

But even with such evidence, tobacco companies are freer in the US than many other parts of the world. Appeals have shrunk the monetary awards resulting from those suits to negligible amounts, and tobacco again looks untouchable in this country. Last week the Illinois Supreme Court reversed a lower-court verdict penalizing Philip Morris over $10 million for defrauding customers into thinking its "light" cigarettes were less dangerous.

As ever, it keeps friends in high places to ensure that regulations like those in Uganda, China, and Australia do not happen at home. For example, Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds reportedly supplied now-sullied Texas Senator Tom DeLay with their corporate jets as he flew from campaign fundraiser to campaign fundraiser.

From an Associated Press story today:

R.J. Reynolds let DeLay use a company plane at least nine times since 1999, once joining Philip Morris in making jets available for a DeLay PAC fundraiser at a Puerto Rican resort in winter 2002. R.J. Reynolds spokesman David Howard said planes are loaned usually at lawmakers' request and are only done if jets aren't needed for company business.

"It's much more convenient as opposed to your regular commercial travel," Howard said, noting there is no need to go through airport security.

On R.J. Reynolds' planes, smoking is allowed and there are usually beverages and deli-style food. There's more leg room and the convenience of phones.

The smoking rule suits DeLay, who likes to chomp on cigars while golfing and reported spending at least $1,930 in PAC money on cigar-shop purchases. The cigars were reported to the Federal Election Commission as donor gifts.

It's business as usual in Marlboro country.