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Smoke and Mirrors (Foreign Policy)

January 19, 2011
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Foreign Policy published visiting fellow Tom Bollyky's article on the need for the the United States to lead on global tobacco regulation.

From the Article:

If it seems fewer people are smoking in the United States, that's because it's true. Since 1965, the proportion of U.S. adults who smoke has plummeted from 42 percent to 19 percent as a result of higher excise taxes, civil and criminal litigation, and tobacco-control programs in U.S. cities and states.

But as tobacco use declines in the United States, it is on the rise in low- and middle-income countries, spurred by higher incomes, trade liberalization, and intensive industry marketing. There are 1.2 billion smokers in the world, roughly one-third of the world's adult population. Seven-hundred million children -- approximately 40 percent of the world's youth population -- are exposed to second hand tobacco smoke at home. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), tobacco use already kills more people annually than HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined. Unless urgent action is taken, it is expected to kill hundreds of millions more in the coming decades, mostly in developing countries. The World Economic Forum's 2010 global risk report ranked non-communicable diseases, for which tobacco use is a leading risk factor, as a greater threat to global economic development than fiscal crises, natural disasters, transnational crime and corruption, and infectious disease.
This week marks 10 years since President Bill Clinton signed an executive order, which remains in effect, requiring U.S. agencies to take "strong action to address the potential global epidemic of diseases caused by tobacco use." While the intervening decade has seen significant efforts to reduce smoking domestically, Washington continues to do too little to address the expanding tobacco use in developing countries and its devastating consequences.

At home, the U.S. government is cracking down on tobacco. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed a law that gave the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sweeping new powers to regulate tobacco products. Graphic images of diseased lungs and deceased smokers will soon adorn cigarette packs sold in the United States. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that these new regulations will reduce U.S. youth smoking by another 11 percent over the next decade.

Abroad, however, U.S. engagement on tobacco control is minimal. The United States has yet to join the 171 countries that have ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a binding, comprehensive treaty designed to reduce tobacco supply and demand worldwide. Less than $7 million of the more than $8 billion global health budget in 2009 was dedicated to international tobacco control. Nearly every trade and investment agreement that the United States has negotiated over the last decade reduces tobacco tariffs and improves the protection of tobacco-related investments overseas. The same new law that restricts cigarette marketing and labeling in the United States specifically excludes cigarettes destined for sale or distribution abroad.

Read the Article.

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