The Export of U.S. Tobacco Products to Developing Countries and Previously Closed Markets

By Gruner, Heidi S. | Law and Policy in International Business, Fall 1996 | Go to article overview

The Export of U.S. Tobacco Products to Developing Countries and Previously Closed Markets


Gruner, Heidi S., Law and Policy in International Business


Although per capita cigarette consumption has fallen by ten percent in developed countries since 1970, in developing countries it has risen by sixty-seven percent.(1) Globally, lung cancer is skyrocketing,(2) and ninety percent of this increase is attributable to cigarette smoking.(3) In a developing country like India, for example, where deaths would be expected to result from infectious diseases, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 800,000 deaths would result in 1990 from tobacco use.(4) In 1990, the WHO gauged that the number of deaths per year in the world due to smoking had reached three million, the equivalent of eight thousand deaths per day.(5) The WHO expects this figure to at least triple by the time today's teenage smokers reach middle age.(6) By the year 2025, ten million people are expected to die each year from tobacco use.(7) Seven million of these deaths will occur in developing countries, with two million deaths per year in China alone.(8)

The United States has contributed to this increase in cancer deaths by changing consumption patterns within developing countries through private industry and official government action.(9) U.S. tobacco manufacturers have contributed by (1) targeting the Asia-Pacific region (particularly China), Eastern Europe, and Russia as growth areas suited for significant investment;(10) (2) using sophisticated marketing and advertising techniques to sell their tobacco products;(11) and (3) petitioning the U.S. government to open markets on their behalf.(12) Although these private actions are significant, state action is needed to conclude that a legal principle has been violated. The U.S. government has contributed to the increase in cancer deaths by (1) threatening trade sanctions if markets are not opened to U.S. tobacco products and advertising bans are not lifted;(13) (2) attempting to increase the sale of U.S. tobacco products abroad through the lobbying efforts of members of Congress(14) and congressional committee staff members,(15) the creation of federally funded foreign market development programs for tobacco,(16) and the former inclusion of tobacco within the list of surplus crops to be distributed "to less developed or famine stricken regions of the world" through the Food For Peace program;(17) and (3) exempting U.S. cigarette exports from major federal controls on the export of potentially harmful products or substances.(18) Through these actions, the U.S. government has contributed to the increase in cigarette consumption abroad. As a result, it has contributed to the violation of health and human rights(19) in other countries.

This Note is organized in the following manner. Part I analyzes smoking's impact on health, highlighting the disproportionate threat to the health of populations in developing countries and of particular groups within those countries. Part II examines the international economic landscape for the export of tobacco products. This section also sheds light on the reason for the U.S. cigarette exporters' assertion that the opening of markets closed to tobacco imports is a trade issue rather than a health issue.(20) Part III provides an overview of the methods used by U.S. tobacco firms to penetrate foreign markets, with particular emphasis on their marketing practices. Part IV describes U.S. government efforts to facilitate the export of U.S. tobacco products. Part V highlights the actions of developing countries: first, their involvement in the export of tobacco products and, second, a survey of importing countries' efforts to educate their citizens about the health risks associated with smoking and to pass legislation to curb the promotion of tobacco products. Although countries in the former Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe are passing legislation to ban the advertising, and in some instances to prohibit the sale, of tobacco,(21) this Note limits its analysis of this issue to developments in Southeast Asian countries. …

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