John Oliver will be glad to hear this. (Thank you Orcas for the tip on this story).
Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg announced this week a $4 million fund to help small countries around the world with their legal battles against Big Tobacco. Gates is contributing through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Bloomberg through the Bloomberg Foundation.
Oliver has been pounding away on this issue on his HBO show, “Last Week Tonight.” When small countries attempt to control tobacco branding and tobacco advertising, they get sued by Big Tobacco into submission though world trade agreement laws and courts into dropping their proposals. This has happened in Uruguay, Togo, Ireland and especially Australia (OK, not so small of a country, but it’s been a bloody legal battle there.).
In this quote from a Guardian article about the announcement, Bill Gates said:
“Country leaders who are trying to protect their citizens from the harms of tobacco should not be deterred by threats of costly legal challenges from huge tobacco companies. Australia won its first case, which sends a strong message. But smaller, developing countries don’t have the same resources. That’s why we are supporting the Anti-Tobacco Trade Litigation Fund with Bloomberg Philanthropies.”
Added Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization:
“In an ominous trend, in some countries the battle between tobacco and health has moved into the courts. Governments wishing to protect their citizens through larger pictorial warnings on cigarette packs or by introducing plain packaging are being intimidated by industry’s threats of lengthy and costly litigation. This is an effort to deprive governments of their sovereign right to legislate in the public interest. We will push back hard.”
I hope $4 million is just a start, because I suspect the international Big Tobacco companies have a vastly bigger legal war chest than that. Anyway, it’s great that people are recognizing the problem that Oliver has exposed on his show.
The tobacco industry has been aggressively trying to expand to international markets, since smoking has dropped so dramatically in the West. The industry particularly salivates over Africa, India and Southeast Asia, where laws and governments are weaker and the smoking rates higher than in the West. (The industry would expand into China bigtime if China allowed it, but the tobacco market there is state-controlled.)
Bloomberg is a noted anti-smoking advocate … you could even call him a zealot (I know some New Yorkers would). As the mayor of New York, he oversaw a number of restrictions on smoking (strict smoking bans not only in bars and restaurants, but in parks) and tax increases for cigarettes. He could be accused of taking his health campaign too far into “nanny state” territory because he also tried to ban large sodas in New York, a move that was ruled illegal by the courts. His heart is in the right place, at least.