2013-08-22 17:00:39 - WASHINGTON, D.C. (August 22, 2013): The media is helping to fan the flames of public concern about the more than 40 uncontained forest fires in the western U.S. which are reportedly costing more than $1 billion so far this year alone, but it is strangely silent about controlled burnings which cost the American economy some $300 billion year after year, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf.
The controlled burning of tobacco – primarily in cigarettes - cost taxpayers in excess of 100 times more than the forest fires which currently dominate the evening news, yet even important developments related to this problem go largely unreported, and fail to trigger the public concern they should warrant.
For example, public health advocates were recently told at a secret briefing that the Obama administration backed down from a proposal to include, within the Trans-Pacific Partnership [TPP], wording which would have prevented economic concerns over trade from overriding steps being taken by countries to protect public health from the single largest controllable threat – tobacco use.
Without such a provision, major tobacco companies are likely to use this treaty,
as they are increasingly using other trade treaties, to block proven methods of reducing the unnecessary deaths, disability, and diseases caused by smoking.
The concern among health advocates is also that this same arguably misguided policy of putting profits above health will also affect ongoing negotiations regarding a brand new Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership [TTIP] now being negotiated between the U.S. and the European Union.
Instead, advocates argue, the U.S. and other countries should recognize tobacco as a uniquely harmful product, not simply another consumer product to buy and sell, and create a safe harbor for nations to regulate in order to reduce tobacco use.
Major tobacco companies have already used law suits based upon trade treaties to attack Congress' decision to ban virtually all flavorings from cigarettes because of their impact on children.
The same companies have used other treaties to similarly attack different antismoking public health measures in other countries. For these reasons, the U.S. originally backed the safe harbor provision, but now suddenly, citing no reason other than criticism from the tobacco industry, has backed down.
It makes little sense, at a time of growing concern about forest fires, to ignore the controlled burnings which occur every day, and cost far more lives and far more taxpayer dollars, argues Banzhaf.
Letting big tobacco continue to attack antismoking measures in the name of free trade will cost the U.S. and other countries far more than the agreements are expected to yield, he says.
JOHN F. BANZHAF III, B.S.E.E., J.D., Sc.D.
Professor of Public Interest Law
George Washington University Law School,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
Fellow, World Technology Network,
Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
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