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July 8th, 2015:

Majority of Americans Agree You Should Be 21 to Buy Tobacco

Tanya Basu @mstanyabasu

Three out of every four American adults favor increasing the minimum age from 18

Three out of every four American adults favor increasing the minimum age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21, according to a survey released Tuesday.

The study, released by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine on Tuesday, also found that smokers overwhelmingly agreed; 7 of 10 cigarette smokers backed raising the minimum age.

Brian King, acting deputy director for research translation at the Center for Disease Control’s Office on Smoking and Health, highlighted the health benefits that could come from such an increase. “It could delay the age of first experimenting with tobacco, reducing the likelihood of transitioning to regular use and increasing the likelihood that those who do become regular users can quit.”

Most states require tobacco purchases to be made by someone who is at least 18; in Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey, and Utah, the minimum age is 19. Hawaii, however, already has a must-be-21 to purchase tobacco rule in place.

The data came from a 2014 online survey of 4,219 adults over 18. A separate study earlier this year found that if the all states were to raise the minimum age for tobacco sales to 21, there would be a 12% decrease in smokers along with 250,000 fewer premature deaths

New York Times: CVS Health Quits U.S. Chamber Over Stance on Smoking

The CVS Health Corporation said Tuesday that it was resigning from the United States Chamber of Commerce after revelations that the chamber and its foreign affiliates were undertaking a global lobbying campaign against antismoking laws.

CVS, which last year stopped selling tobacco products in its stores, said the lobbying activity ran counter to its mission to improve public health.

“We were surprised to read recent press reports concerning the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s position on tobacco products outside the United States,” David R. Palombi, a senior vice president at the company, said in a statement. “CVS Health’s purpose is to help people on their path to better health, and we fundamentally believe tobacco use is in direct conflict with this purpose.

“We believe the chamber has advocated for many important causes over the years, and we thank them for their leadership on these issues,” he added. “Given the leadership position we took last year in removing tobacco products from our stores, however, we have decided to withdraw our membership in the chamber.”

The New York Times reported last week that the chamber and its vast network of foreign affiliates had targeted restrictions on smoking in public spaces, bans on menthol and slim cigarettes, advertising restrictions, excise tax increases, plain packaging and graphic warning labels, and often in developing countries. The chamber’s efforts have put it in direct opposition to the World Health Organization’s efforts to curb tobacco use around the world. Thomas J. Donohue, the head of the chamber, has been personally involved in the campaign.

The campaign also runs counter to efforts by some of its members. Four health care companies that serve on its board — Anthem, the Health Care Service Corporation, the Steward Health Care System of Boston and the Indiana University Health system — all support antismoking programs.

The chamber has defended its efforts around the globe, saying it is about defending its members’ business interests.

“It’s unfortunate that a concerted misinformation campaign about the U.S. Chamber’s position on smoking has resulted in a company leaving our organization,” the chamber said in a statement.

“To be clear, the chamber does not support smoking and wants people to quit,” the statement said. “At the same time, we support protecting the intellectual property and trademarks of all legal products in all industries and oppose singling out certain industries for discriminatory treatment.”

The chamber has not said why it has opposed public health steps like restricting smoking in public places, which it called an “extreme” measure when it was proposed in Moldova.

The decision by CVS was the latest criticism to hit the chamber.

Last week, seven Senate Democrats, including Richard Blumenthal, Al Franken and Elizabeth Warren, called the chamber’s tobacco lobbying “craven and unconscionable,” adding that “member companies should be concerned that their good name is sullied in efforts to strike down public health protections worldwide.”

Richard Branson, the billionaire British entrepreneur, said on Twitter that the chamber was on “the wrong side of history.” And on Tuesday, the head of the W.H.O. weighed in, assailing the chamber over its lobbying practices.

“By lobbying against well-established, widely accepted and evidence-based tobacco control public health policies, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce undermines its own credibility on other issues,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, the director general of the World Health Organization, in a statement on Tuesday. “So long as tobacco companies continue to be influential members of the chamber, legitimate businesses will be tarred with the same brush.”

The chamber is the nation’s largest trade group, but has become increasingly controversial in recent years. Apple resigned in 2009 over the chamber’s opposition to global warming regulation, and in 2013 the American arm of the Swedish construction company Skanska resigned over the chamber’s support to what the company called a “chemical industry-led initiative” to lobby against green building codes.

In a statement Tuesday morning, before the CVS decision was made public, Anthem said it was “dedicated to helping people quit smoking and has led the charge to end tobacco use.”

“Anthem has shared its strong, longstanding position with the chamber and will continue to address our concerns with the chamber directly,” the statement said.

Greg Thompson, a spokesman for the Health Care Service Corporation, said in a statement last week, “We are convinced that ending smoking may help people live longer, enjoy a better quality of life and reduce costs in our health care system.

“This is a point of view we have advocated for decades and made clear to organizations that we support,” he added.

European Parliamentsafeguards health in TTIP, says No to ‘business as usual’ ISDS

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Wonder how American tobacco companies can sue countries for antismoking campaigns?

Last week, the New York Times revealed in a pair of articles that the American Chamber of Commerce is fighting countries that try to reduce smoking. The tool that the Chamber is using in its battles is a treaty section called an “investor-state dispute settlement provision,” or ISDS. Obama’s administration is currently working to negotiate at least one new deal that so far includes an ISDS provision: the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, designed to further liberalize trade among the U.S., Canada and several countries in Asia and Latin America. The ISDS provision is proving controversial; Elizabeth Warren spoke out against it, as have others.

But the ISDS issue goes beyond the TPP itself. As the Chamber’s fight on behalf of tobacco companies illustrates, even if the TPP stalls or if that provision falls out of the agreement, international companies can still sue countries, right now, under existing international agreements.

Many heads of state tend to rush to sign international agreements, which often have ISDS provisions, either to improve their nation’s reputation or to advance their own domestic agendas. The number of those agreements has increased dramatically in recent years. Many of these agreements potentially allow firms to “treaty-shop” by incorporating their firms in nations that have ISDS provisions that they’d like to use.

How does this work? Suppose a U.S.-based company invests abroad — say, in Venezuela — and subsequently wants to sue the host country for failing to protect its investment. If the country were Venezuela, for instance, U.S. firms suffered substantial losses when former President Hugo Chavez nationalized foreign firms, in particular energy companies. Traditionally, an aggrieved firm would have legal recourse only if its home country had an agreement with an ISDS provision with Venezuela (or whatever the host country might have been). If not — and the U.S. does not have such an agreement with Venezuela — the firm’s options would be limited.

However, ISDS provisions are embedded in a wide variety of international agreements — bilateral investment treaties and preferential trade agreements, for example — and across a broad swath of countries. And a multinational firm has the option of incorporating abroad. If a firm wanted to sue a country through an ISDS provision, it could simply use an existing subsidiary or set one up in a country that does have such a provision with the offending country — even after the offense. For example, after Australia introduced legislation requiring cigarettes to be sold in plain packaging, with only the brand name and a health warning, Philip Morris used its Hong Kong subsidiary to sue Australia, because of a stronger ISDS provision in the Australia-Hong Kong bilateral investment treaty.

Researchers have started examining this trend (here and here). And world leaders have belatedly started to catch on. In the TPP negotiations, Australia has requested exemption from ISDS provisions, in part as a reaction to the tobacco case. More and more countries are exiting or renegotiating agreements that have ISDS provisions.

The rise in international treaties cannot simply be applauded as an increase in international cooperation. Some agreements languish unused, as I’ve demonstrated here, while others can be used in ways never intended or envisioned in the original bargain. In our globalized world, leaders should be aware of the possible unintended consequences of international agreements.

The economics of tobacco control (Part 2): evidence from the ITC Project

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