By Tariq A. Al-Maeena
Philip Morris is an American company gone global that produces cigarettes and tobacco products. It offers seven of the largest selling brands of cigarettes in the world including its most recognized and top seller, the Marlboro brand of cigarettes. The company has enjoyed unprecedented growth and success for many decades as smoking was promoted first by doctors, then movie stars, and then simply became a necessary part of life to many.
However, in the face of rising evidence that the product was harmful and was the leading cause of various diseases and deaths, many countries in the world began waking up and taking notice. They started imposing a series of binding restrictions on tobacco companies including the ban on advertising their products publicly and demanding that all smoking products carry a health warning notification visible for all to see.
Some countries, alarmed at the rise of smokers in their population, passed restrictive legislation on the promotion and sale of tobacco products so much so that in one country, a showdown is in progress between a tobacco giant and the country’s lawmakers.
Philip Morris is suing Uruguay for having some of the best anti-smoking laws in the world, and according to some analysts there’s a good chance it could win. The laws in Uruguay require that 80 percent of the cigarette package be covered with medical warnings and graphic images. Smoking had reached crisis levels, killing around seven Uruguayans each day, but since this law was put in place there has been a change and smoking has decreased every year!
Now the tobacco giant Philip Morris is arguing that the warning labels leave no space for its trademarks. Just imagine. A single company with a product that brings in disease and eventual death has the gall to demand that laws protecting the health of citizens be overturned! It’s a scary reality.
According to Avaaz, a global civic NGO organization that promotes activism on issues affecting the common man, such as climate change, human rights, animal rights, corruption, poverty, and which is leading the fight against this latest diabolical attempt by the tobacco maker, voices must be raised to make our protests global.
This lawsuit is part of a global Philip Morris strategy to sue and intimidate countries. The company already slapped an expensive lawsuit on Australia – and if it wins against Uruguay, it could run cases against more than a hundred other countries including France, Norway, New Zealand, and Finland who are all considering new life-saving legislation.
According to Avaaz, the Uruguayan court has already come under fire for not listening to the public in similar lawsuits and if Big Tobacco gets their way, it opens the door for challenges everywhere – at least four other countries are in the legal crosshairs, and many more have anti-smoking laws at risk.
Experts say Philip Morris has a good chance of winning because it’s using a closed-door international tribunal that ruled for corporations two-thirds of the time last year. And their rulings are binding, even though many of the judges are private citizens with corporate ties instead of impartial legal experts. One must also remember that Philip Morris has deep pockets and everyone has a price.
In our part of the world, statistics by the various authorities in the GCC clearly indicate that smoking and tobacco consumption in the region is on an unprecedented rise. Such a trend has long-term health consequences costing governments extraordinary amounts of money for the care of those afflicted with smoking-related diseases.
The Middle East was fertile ground as anti-smoking legislation is weak and a fast growing birth rate means a higher number of potential smokers. Big tobacco companies quickly established regional headquarters in the region for the GCC market and set to work. Their game is get us hooked, while they rake in the billions!
Unlike the cigarettes of yesteryear which consisted primarily of tobacco products, today’s smokes are a concoction of chemically-laced carcinogens with a sprinkling of tobacco guaranteed to make the user a lifelong addict. Let us join hands with Avaaz and expose this deadly addiction for what it is and stop these purveyors of death in their tracks. We owe it to the generations that follow.