Busi­ness non­sense

The U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce should quit lob­by­ing for to­bacco abroad.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

THE FACTS about to­bacco’s dan­gers are stark. The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion says to­bacco kills nearly 6 mil­lion peo­ple each year. More than 5 mil­lion die from smok­ing and the rest from ex­po­sure to sec­ond-hand smoke. Eight in 10 of the world’s 1 bil­lion smok­ers are in low- and mid­dlein­come coun­tries. To­bacco use is the lead­ing pre­ventable cause of death in high-in­come coun­tries and in­creas­ingly in low- and mid­dle-in­come coun­tries, too.

Some 180 na­tions have backed the WHO Frame­work Con­ven­tion on To­bacco Con­trol, a treaty that of­fers a road map for re­duc­ing to­bacco use around the world, fo­cus­ing on both sup­ply and de­mand. The United States, which has made huge gains in cut­ting back on smok­ing since the land­mark 1964 sur­geon gen­eral’s re­port, has signed but not rat­i­fied the treaty, which en­tered into force in 2005.

There are promis­ing signs that the tide is turn­ing against to­bacco. The phar­macy chain and re­tailer CVS Care­mark last year phased out to­bacco sales at its more than 7,600 stores, say­ing selling to­bacco prod­ucts was in­con­sis­tent with its mis­sion of help­ing peo­ple im­prove their health. The sur­geon gen­eral, in an up­date last year to the 1964 re­port, found that re­search has shown “what works” and “what steps must be taken if we truly want to bring to a close one of our na­tion’s most tragic bat­tles — one that has killed ten times the num­ber of Amer­i­cans who died in all of our na­tion’s wars com­bined.”

Ap­par­ently, the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce has not heard, or de­lib­er­ately chooses to ig­nore this. Ac­cord­ing to an ac­count in the New York Times, the cham­ber, which de­scribes it­self as rep­re­sent­ing the in­ter­ests of more than 3 mil­lion busi­nesses, is qui­etly sup­port­ing ef­forts around the world to re­sist tighter con­trols on to­bacco use. The Times pub­lished e-mails and doc­u­ments show­ing how the cham­ber has lob­bied to cur­tail an­ti­smok­ing mea­sures out­side the United States.

How does ad­vanc­ing a prod­uct that kills peo­ple pre­ma­turely serve the in­ter­ests of busi­nesses? The cham­ber ought to be the first or­ga­ni­za­tion to grasp that smok­ing puts a ter­ri­ble bur­den on so­ci­eties, drain­ing their public health and med­i­cal re­sources and steal­ing away lives that could be pro­duc­tive for years to come. Is it wise to rep­re­sent the nar­row and harm­ful in­ter­ests of one in­dus­try— to­bacco— at the ex­pense of the broader public good? More and more, that harm is caused to women and to peo­ple in lowand mod­er­ate-in­come coun­tries. Is that an ex­em­plar of U.S. cor­po­rate vi­sion? A cham­ber spokesman told us that the or­ga­ni­za­tion “is not an ad­vo­cate for cig­a­rette smok­ing and we know that smok­ing car­ries ob­vi­ous health risks” but that the group is op­pos­ing en­croach­ment on busi­ness rights. Does a health warn­ing on a pack en­croach on in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty of a cig­a­rette com­pany? We doubt it.

In the United States, decades of ef­forts to stop the to­bacco scourge are show­ing re­sults. The smok­ing rate has de­clined by more than half, from 42.7 per­cent in 1965 to 18 per­cent in 2012. This ought to be du­pli­cated, not sub­verted else­where. The Cham­ber of Com­merce should quit its global ad­vo­cacy for to­bacco and stand up for what re­ally helps busi­ness: healthy work­ers and healthy peo­ple.

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