Could TTIP reverse the progress made by the EU on tobacco control and lead to greater levels of smoking-related diseases and deaths? EPHA’s analysis “Tobacco and Public Health in TTIP’ suggests that TTIP may have a major impact on the consumption of tobacco, with serious consequences for public health on both sides of the Atlantic.

By Zoltan Massay-Kosubek, Policy Coordinator for Healthy Trade and Trade Equity and Nadeem Hasan, Public Health Registrar

Tobacco products are unique in the scale and severity of the public health impacts they cause worldwide, killing over half the consumers who use them as intended. In the EU alone, tobacco consumption is responsible for almost 700,000 deaths per year. It is a major cause of chronic diseases including cancers, cardiovascular disease, respiratory diseases (such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease(COPD)) and lung disease – affecting over 13 million people in the EU.

The annual cost to health systems across the EU from smoking-related diseases is estimated to be €25.3bn, and the wider cost to society from productivity losses is estimated to be €8.3bn every year. At a time of healthcare budgets being squeezed across the EU, this is a major public health challenge.

The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) was developed in recognition of sustained efforts by the tobacco industry to undermine and subvert tobacco-control measures around the world. Whilst the USA has not ratified the FCTC, the EU has done so, and tobacco use in the EU has been falling due to the widespread implementation of tobacco control policies. These include taxes and tariffs, as well as rules on labelling and packaging, restrictions on advertising and promotion, and smoke-free policies. The FCTC highlights the role of international trade in spreading the tobacco epidemic, particularly through trade liberalisation and foreign direct investment. Research suggests that trade liberalisation has resulted in lower prices and higher consumption of tobacco in importing countries, particularly affecting young people and lower socioeconomic groups who are more sensitive to price. This could therefore reverse the recent positive trend in reducing tobacco use in young people as well as adults.

Additionally, there is clear evidence that the tobacco industry views international trade and investment treaties, including TTIP, as an opportunity to subvert and water down existing policies, as well as blocking future policy development aimed at improving public health. Investigations have shown that the tobacco lobby has sought to strongly influence TTIP negotiators, drawing heavy criticism by the European Ombudsman. Alongside this, legal action brought by tobacco companies via ‘Investor-State Dispute Settlement’ (ISDS) mechanisms have sought to undermine tobacco control policies, as well as instituting a ‘regulatory chill’ whereby other governments delay or abandon the implementation of similar policies.

Accordingly, it is clear that international trade and investment agreements such as TTIP must be handled carefully to ensure that they do not lead to an increase in consumption of tobacco products, or a weakening of tobacco control measures. To ensure this, EPHA’s analysis makes 3 clear recommendations on Tobacco and TTIP to protect public health:

  • TTIP must not lead to an increase in consumption of tobacco products by increasing their availability, affordability or attractiveness. This includes not removing EU tariffs on tobacco products unless they are compensated for by other measures such as increased taxes or excise duties.
  • TTIP must be in line with the EU and Member State commitments to the WHO FCTC. This includes the Commission publishing an impact assessment of TTIP with regard to FCTC obligations; ensuring TTIP does not undermine existing tobacco control measures; and ensuring TTIP enables the further development of stricter tobacco control.
  • The TTIP text must ensure that policy space for tobacco control measures is safeguarded. This includes guaranteeing that TTIP will not have a ‘chilling’ effect on the freedom of governments to introduce new and stricter policies on tobacco control; not including ISDS or Investment Court System (ICS) mechanisms in TTIP; or if ISDS/ICS is to be included, carving out a guarantee of the margin of appreciation for governments in relation to public health.
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