Global Tobacco Control Updates
Uruguay Stands Up to Big Tobacco’s Bullying and Defends Its Landmark Tobacco Laws Against Legal Challenge from Philip Morris International13 Oct 2014
WASHINGTON, DC – The government of Uruguay has sent a resounding message to Philip Morris International – and to the international community – that it has an extremely strong case and will not back down in defending its landmark tobacco control laws against a bullying lawsuit filed by the tobacco giant. Uruguay yesterday filed a legal defense of its life-saving tobacco packaging and labeling laws, which Philip Morris has challenged as a violation of an international investment agreement.
The facts demonstrate just how weak Philip Morris’ case is. We are confident Uruguay will prevail because it was properly exercising its sovereign right – indeed, its obligation – to the citizens of Uruguay to protect their health against the harms caused by tobacco. Philip Morris’s lawsuit is without merit and an abuse of the international trade system.
Philip Morris is challenging Uruguay’s laws that require large, graphic health warnings covering 80 percent of the front and back of tobacco packs, limit each cigarette brand to one variation, and eliminate misleading labels such as “light” and “low-tar” that falsely imply some cigarettes are less harmful. These policies do not violate investment agreements, are strongly supported by scientific evidence and fulfill Uruguay’s legal obligations under the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the world’s first public health treaty. Uruguay is among 179 parties to the treaty, which obligates countries to implement effective measures to reduce tobacco use.
Uruguay’s policies have been effective. A 2012 study published in The Lancet found that Uruguay’s comprehensive tobacco control policy approach led to substantial decreases in tobacco use. According to the study, from 2005 to 2011 per-person consumption of cigarettes decreased by 4.3 percent per year and the adult smoking rate fell by 3.3 percent per year.
Philip Morris’ complaints have already been heard and denied by Uruguay’s court system. Having lost in Uruguay’s courts, Philip Morris then challenged Uruguay’s laws as a violation of a bilateral investment treaty between Uruguay and Switzerland. That case is now being heard by an arbitration panel administered by the World Bank.
The outcome of this case is critical to efforts to reduce tobacco use not only in Uruguay, but around the world. Increasingly, Philip Morris and other tobacco companies are challenging nations’ tobacco control measures as violations of trade and investment agreements. These lawsuits are blatant attempts to bully countries and stop them from taking effective action to reduce tobacco use, the world’s number one cause of preventable death. Unless the international community unites against the tobacco industry, these rich corporate Goliaths will continue to target small country Davids that cannot afford to engage in expensive legal battles.
Philip Morris has filed a similar legal challenge, involving another investment agreement, against Australia’s law requiring that cigarettes be sold in plain packaging with large graphic warnings. That law has contributed to a 15 percent reduction in Australia’s smoking rate since its implementation.
Despite the attempts of Philip Morris, the world’s largest multinational tobacco company, to intimidate Uruguay, a nation of just 3.3 million people, today’s filings show that Uruguay will not back down.
As Uruguay filed its defense, parties to the tobacco control treaty kicked off a conference in Moscow to further its implementation. Governments participating in this conference must affirm their commitment to evidence-based measures that reduce tobacco use and send an unmistakable message to tobacco companies that heavy-handed tactics will be met with the same resistance displayed by Uruguay.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids strongly supports the government of Uruguay in its defense of proven measures that will reduce tobacco use and save lives. We hope that Uruguay’s courageous stance will inspire similar action by other governments to stand up to tobacco industry challenges and aggressively tackle the tobacco epidemic. Without urgent action, tobacco use will claim one billion lives worldwide this century.