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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2040

Uruguay’s Victory in the law suite against Philip Morris International a new international trend setter in anti-smoking campaigns

By Manjari Peiris

Creating a historic public health victory around the world, Uruguay has won an international legal battle against Philip Morris International to uphold its strong laws to reduce tobacco use.

More than six years after Philip Morris launched its legal attack, an arbitration tribunal of the World Bank today ruled in Uruguay's favor and strongly rejected Philip Morris' challenge to two adopted by Uruguay to reduce the death and disease caused by tobacco use.

One law requires graphic warnings covering 80 percent of the front and back of cigarette packs, while the other limits each cigarette brand to one pack presentation in order to the use of terms such as "light" and "mild" and colours to falsely imply that some cigarettes are less harmful.

Michael R. Bloomberg, Founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and three-term Mayor of New York, who provided financial support and technical assistance said, “Countries everywhere that they can stand up to tobacco companies and win. Governments should always be able to protect people's health and safety, and we are committed to helping them when tobacco companies try to stand in the way. No country should ever be intimidated by the threat of a tobacco company lawsuit, and this case will help embolden more nations to take actions that will save lives.”

In the same time, the President of Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids (CTFK), Matthew L. Meyers, states;" This ruling is of global significance because it affirms the sovereign right not only of Uruguay, but of all countries, to protect the health of their citizens by adopting effective measures to reduce tobacco use. It is also a powerful rebuke of Philip Morris (PM), which has abused international trade and investment agreements to challenge strong tobacco control laws in Uruguay and other countries in recent years."

CTFK President further states PM thought it could bully Uruguay into backing down from its strong tobacco control laws and by doing so, intimidate countries all across the globe. Instead, Uruguay courageously fought back. Uruguay's refusal to be cowed by PM and its overwhelming victory demonstrate that all countries, regardless of their size or wealth, can stand up to the tobacco industry and successfully defend their life-saving laws. This ruling should spur countries around the world to quickly and fully implement the WHO-FCTC, a public health treaty that had been ratified by 180 parties. Without strong action now, tobacco will kill one billion people worldwide this century.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids applauds Uruguay and President Tabaré Vázquez for their courageous leadership in the fight against tobacco, both in enacting strong tobacco control laws and standing up to Philip Morris. The two laws upheld today are part of Uruguay’s comprehensive approach to reducing tobacco use, which also includes a 100 percent smoke-free law, a ban on tobacco advertising and significant tobacco tax increases. Today, youth smoking in Uruguay is at 8 percent, down from 23 percent in 2007. To continue making progress, President Vázquez has announced plans to introduce legislation requiring plain packaging for tobacco products.

Uruguay's victory is the latest in a series of legal blows for tobacco companies fighting strong tobacco control measures. Previously, an international tribunal threw out a challenge by PMI to Australia's pioneering law requiring that cigarettes be sold in plain packaging, concluding the claim was "an abuse of rights" and the United Kingdom's High Court upheld that country's plain packaging law, and the EU's Court of Justice recently upheld new tobacco regulations, including a requirement for large, graphic health warnings and authority for EU countries to adopt plain packaging.

These rulings have created tremendous momentum for global efforts to fight tobacco use and sent a clear message that tobacco companies cannot be allowed to put profits above lives.

Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids provided financial support and technical assistance to the Uruguayan government's legal team. In 2015, Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation also established the Anti-Tobacco Trade Litigation Fund to assist low-and middle income countries facing similar lawsuits.

Meanwhile, Dr. Ehsan Latif, Director of the Department of Tobacco Control at The Union, states; " This is a victory for the sovereign right of nations to protect the health of their populations above and beyond the economic interests of the tobacco industry. This decision is ground-breaking for the global advancement of tobacco control. It has proven that small countries, with comparatively limited resources, can take on the might of multinational tobacco corporations and win. PMI should now be liable for all legal costs relating to this case. they must be held accountable."

Dr. Latif further states, that there was now no legal obstacle to other countries moving ahead with similarly strong tobacco control measures that are proven to reduce consumption and the premature death and disease.

- Asian Tribune -

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