Anti-smoking group urges Congress to pass Pacific trade deal

An anti-smoking group on Tuesday urged congressional lawmakers to pass an Asia-Pacific trade agreement that they argue will ensure governments can enact tobacco-control measures without the threat of legal challenges.  

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network sent a letter to Capitol Hill calling on lawmakers to back the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) because the pact blocks tobacco companies from using the investor-state dispute settlement system to fight public health regulations

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“We are pleased that the TPP contains a targeted tobacco-control exception so the U.S. and our trading partners will be able to adopt lifesaving non-discriminatory tobacco control measures without interference from the tobacco industry," said Chris Hansen, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network in the letter. 

"This provision will give the TPP signatories the protection they need to save lives, and we would note that it in no way interferes with the intended broader trade and economic benefits of the agreement," Hansen said. 

The letter comes the day before the U.S. intends to sign the TPP with 11 other trade ministers in Auckland, New Zealand.

Public health groups argue that the tobacco industry has used trade agreements to fight cigarette labeling and packaging requirements, but say the TPP deal sets an important precedent to treat tobacco differently in future deals.

“Not only are these disputes costly and lengthy for the countries involved, but, just the risk of facing such disputes has caused other countries to abandon or delay tobacco control measures,” Hansen said.

The groups say that they may be able to pick up more Democratic votes for the TPP by appealing to those who have supported their efforts on tobacco but have been otherwise wary of the broader agreement.

But tobacco-state Republicans have said that the provision is unfair to the industries in their states, and some have said they will oppose the TPP unless changes are made.