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Feb 18 2015

Tobacco Companies

In a 20 minute segment of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” host John Oliver lights up an industry giant, tobacco and how it uses the courts to suppress the laws of the poorest countries to restrict cigarette sales and inform their citizens of the health hazards of tobacco use. John also introduces a new mascot and a tee shirt, Jeff the Diseased Lung, for an adverting campaign

As Last Week Tonight host John Oliver notes early in his incredible, 20-minute examination of the global battle being fought over tobacco advertising, the smoking rate in the United States has dropped from 43 percent in 1965 to 18 percent today thanks to strict laws outlawing cigarette ads. With America largely kicking its smoking habit, the tobacco industry has been forced to make up the revenues abroad, leading to court battles in countries like Australia, Uruguay and Togo, one of the 10 poorest nations in the world.

Oliver’s takedown also focuses on the extreme lengths companies like Philip Morris International are going to place their products in the hands of the youth, including a Marlboro-sponsored kiosk outside an Indonesian school where teens can purchase a single cigarette for a dime.

Countries have responded to Big Tobacco’s unorthodox marketing with laws that allow government to place grotesque images of smoker’s lung and blackened teeth on cigarette packaging, but even those measures have resulted in threats of billion-dollar lawsuits from the tobacco giants in international court.

One such battle is being waged in Togo, where Philip Morris International, a company with annual earnings of $80 billion, is threatening a nation with a GDP of $4.3 billion over their plans to add the harsh imagery to cigarette boxes, since much of the population is illiterate and therefore can’t read the warning labels.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Tobacco

The tobacco industry derives much of its legal power from treaties like the World Trade Organization

That’s right, a company was able to sue a country over a public health measure through an international court. How the f*ck is that possible?

Apparently, PMI had dug up a treaty from 1993 that stated that Australia couldn’t seize Hong Kong-based companies’ properties, so before it started litigation, it moved its Australia business to its Hong Kong-based division and then sued claiming the property being seized was its trademarks on its cigarette packages.

But it wasn’t just PMI who came after Australia. Three countries – Honduras, the Dominican Republic, and Ukraine – also filed complaints with the World Trade Organization against Australia’s plain packaging law. However, it turns out, Ukraine has zero trade with Australia of any tobacco products. [..]

Not surprisingly, these complaints are fully backed by PMI, who will even cover some of the legal costs. But Big Tobacco doesn’t just go after big countries; the small South American country of Uruguay was also a target. Oliver points out that it’s a country we think so little about that the audience didn’t even notice he was deliberately highlighting the wrong country on a map to prove his point.

It is treaties like the WTO that harm struggling counties and the poorest populations around the world. President Barack Obama would like to further that harm with even bigger “free trade” like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). These treaties will cause job losses, lower wages, higher drug prices, endanger the environment and food supplies. The treaties also would give companies, like Phillip Morris International, even more power to sue governments if those governments’ policies cause a loss of profits, undermining democracy. They are being negotiated in secret and the public only knows about them because Wikileaks released drafts of some of the worst clauses that it had acquired.

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