Philip Morris says it will continue lobbying on international tobacco controls

Philip Morris International says it will continue to make its case to governments worldwide that are working to implement an international treaty that calls for limiting the role of the tobacco industry in how no-smoking advertising and excise-tax rules are shaped.

“The guidelines do not prohibit governments from involving tobacco companies in the legislative process,” said Anne Edwards, director of external communications for Philip Morris International. “We believe that it is appropriate for us to make our views known on topics that affect our company and we do so transparently through the normal participatory process.”

The statement was part of a series of answers the company provided to questions asked by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The company’s emailed responses arrived after deadline for most of the stories in the recently released ICIJ investigation Smoke Screen. ICIJ was able to include some responses to questions about the company’s restraint-of-trade claim in international trade court against the government of Uruguay.

Earlier, British American Tobacco offered a statement answering similar questions posed by ICIJ.

“Smoke Screen,” an investigation into lobbying by the industry in developing nations and emerging markets, debuted this week as government officials, anti-tobacco activists and industry representatives arrived in Punta del Este, Uruguay, to measure progress on implementation of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention for Tobacco Control, the first international health treaty, crafted in 2003 and now endorsed by 171 nations.

Implementation has come in fits and starts since the treaty was written. Some government officials and anti-tobacco activists blame the stutter-step implementation on industry interference with the process. “Smoke Screen” found that in key countries the tobacco industry has orchestrated hard-ball lobbying strategies, distributed charitable gifts to pet causes of key officials and threatened protracted legal action against governments with limited resources.

This week in Punta del Este, delegates set up new work groups to figure out how nations can comply with controversial treaty provisions like providing smoking cessation programs. Delegates, some representing industry interests and tobacco farmers, also argued over international standards on excise taxes for cigarettes, and whether a continued crackdown on tobacco smuggling ought to remain a part of the international accord.

No major decisions are expected on these and other tobacco-control issues, but the meetings were designed to identify critical problems and controversies and decide on routes to future remedies.

Outside the delegates’ meetings, anti-tobacco activists and industry representatives traded accusations of unwarranted interference with the meetings. Meanwhile, Uruguay’s tough-talking president, Jose Mujica, again promised to defend his country’s strict rules on tobacco sales against the Philip Morris claim, even as a presidential aide told ICIJ that the door would remain open to an eventual settlement of the case.

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