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Uruguay Slams Big Tobacco, Defends Marijuana Policy

President Tabare Vazquez of Uruguay addresses attendees during the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York,

“We can regulate these markets without a prohibitionist stance,” Vazquez said.

​Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez defended his country’s “sovereign” decisions over public health and slammed the multinational tobacco industry, which he said “in order to double its profits doesn’t have any problem in killing its customers.”

During his speech before the UN General Assembly, Tuesday, Vazquez singled out Phillip Morris for suing Uruguay over the country’s anti-smoking campaign. The company is suing Uruguay for US$25 million under a bilateral investment treaty between Uruguay and Switzerland.

“It is not ethical that tribunals of multinational organizations can give priorities to trade aspects over the defense of fundamental human rights,” said Vazquez.

He said that perhaps Uruguay was being singled out, because they are a small country, so that others don’t follow their lead against big tobacco and Uruguay’s attempt to “give its people a better life.”

“Public health is an essential component of the sovereignty of nations,” said Vazquez, who worked as a doctor for many years.

As part of public health policies, Vazquez spoke on his country’s moves to deal with drug abuse and alcoholism and defended his country’s 2013 legislation that legalized marijuana.

“We can regulate these markets without a prohibitionist stance,” said Vazquez.

He also called on other countries to do more.

“Nothing can be achieved in isolation,” he said. “Let us make better use of what we have.”

He highlighted the need to address poverty and use preventative measure to particularly address the “global epidemic” of cancer.

“By 2030, 1 million Latin Americans will die yearly from cancer,” he said. “Seven million will die globally.”

On Latin American issues, Vazquez again called for an end to the U.S. blockade on Cuba, and pledged his support for the Colombian peace accords and the dialogue between Venezuela and Colombia over border issues. Vazquez, who is the pro-tempore president of the Union of South American Nations, attended a meeting between Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez last week in Quito, Ecuador, to resolve border tensions.

Finally, Vazquez said the international community should to take preventative means to deal with the world’s problems.

“It is important … to implement systems to address poverty,” he said, highlighting that the global community must focus on improving education, health, dignity and respect for the planet and future generations.

He discussed the European refugee crisis and the image of Aylan Kurdi that shocked public opinion and led to a “swift” international reaction.

“Let’s hope it’s not a passing reaction,” he said, “We have to deal with the causes that led to this.”

“The world seems to be a lunatic asylum run by its own patients,” he said, but added that humanity could not “resign itself to this situation.”

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