Overseas Essay, Research Paper
BOSTON – MONDAY, APRIL 27, 1998
Tobacco Loss at Home Is a Gain Overseas
Under the stress of battling US regulators, the internal tobacco industry mindset is getting easier to see. It realizes it has
lost the battle for America’s hearts and minds. It knows the public holds Big Tobacco in low esteem and expects it to
make as few concessions to our health as possible. So why do tobacco corporations bother to continue the charade and
keep putting their case before an unreceptive public? Big Tobacco has turned up the volume on domestic US controversy
to distract us from a higher-stakes game: the more lucrative international tobacco markets. Philip Morris’s overseas sales
are up 146 percent since 1990. With markets shrinking for Big Tobacco in North America and Western Europe, analysts
project profits will grow at 20 percent a year in the rest of the world.
We correctly call it an epidemic when 400,000 American families a year lose loved ones to tobacco. Yet this is a fraction
of the world pandemic. The World Health Organization projects that unless global trends reverse, tobacco will be
connected to the deaths of a half billion of the 5.5 billion people alive today.
Bad as they are in the US, tobacco marketing and anti-regulatory tactics are more aggressive and dangerous abroad. In
countries where cigarette advertising is restricted, tobacco transnationals practice “brand stretching.” In Malaysia RJR
Nabisco operates the “Salem Power Station” music store aimed at teens. In Ukraine, Philip Morris lures young smokers
with its Marlboro Adventure Team sporting contests.
Focusing on tobacco’s
apparent setbacks here
only masks its advance
Public health experts in these countries know that while regulating tobacco in the declining US market may make us feel
good, focusing on tobacco’s apparent setbacks here only masks its advance overseas. As Konstantin Krasovsky of
Ukraine’s Alcohol and Drug Information Center points out, “the proposed US settlement is just a new way of expanding
the tobacco industry” abroad. Under the McCain bill now in Congress, overseas subsidiaries as well as food divisions
are shielded from liability and exempt from paying anything toward Big Tobacco’s settlement with the US government.
In effect, the bill tells tobacco transnationals that once the US deal is cut, they can be as aggressive as they like overseas,
using subsidiaries to dodge accountability. Meanwhile on the international front, RJR Nabisco and Philip Morris have
been working secretly on the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), a treaty designed to loosen foreign
investment and regulatory restrictions on transnational corporations. The MAI is much bigger than NAFTA, or GATT,
but without the public scrutiny and press coverage. It would allow transnational tobacco corporations to sue foreign
governments directly, as legal equals, and would void national and local laws that conflict with it.
World Health Organization standards are needed as a legal countermeasure. But it will take more than laws to rein in Big
Tobacco. Consumer action gets its attention. Since the 1994 launch of a boycott targeting RJR Nabisco and Philip
Morris, which owns Kraft, Post, and Maxwell House, Big Tobacco’s food divisions have fallen behind growth
Global marketing of tobacco is a US policy concern, not only because of staggering human costs worldwide, but also
because of implications for US marketing. Silence in the US about overseas marketing speaks volumes: Tobacco
corporations don’t want to remind us that international markets make good testing grounds for the US. If tobacco
transnationals learn how to end-run around advertising limits, target children, and bully regulators overseas, they can
learn to apply those same honed techniques in the US.
So when RJR Nabisco’s CEO threatens more aggressive cigarette advertising here, as he did recently, we should
remember tobacco’s global tactics and take the threat seriously.
Our domestic tobacco problems must be addressed in a global context.