New Jersey Star-Ledger editorial: U.S. Chamber, stop promoting tobacco worldwide


The New Jersey Star-Ledger, a major daily newspaper in Newark, N.J., came out this week with a strong editorial bashing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for promoting U.S. tobacco companies abroad. The Star-Ledger accuses the U.S. Chamber of being a “shill” for Big Tobacco around the world.

The Chamber, which has become an increasingly political group, has written dozens of letters to the governments of other nations, some of these small and poor nations, lobbying against a variety of tobacco regulations. CVS Health, which stopped selling tobacco products in its chain of drugstores recently, dropped out of the U.S. Chamber in protest.

Even Mother Jones joined in on the outrage over the U.S. Chamber’s behaviour.

This is something that has been covered by John Oliver and others. The world tobacco industry is fighting a number of small governments, some of which simply don’t have the resources to duke it out with Big Tobacco, over tobacco regulations regarding marketing, packaging and even smokefree workplace laws. The industry has filed a bunch of lawsuits, butting heads with small countries such as Ireland, Togo, Uruguay and others. The industry got into a full-on legal war with Australia over that country’s cigarette plain-packaging laws. The industry sued and it went all the way to the Australian Supreme Court, which ruled in favour of the government. Not satisfied, Big Tobacco enlisted the help of both Hong Kong and Ukraine to get those entities to claim that Australia was somehow violated trade treaties and laws with its plain packaging law.

Anyway, the Chamber decided to write dozens of letters to these little countries, attempting to pressure them to drop their rules and regulations regarding packaging or tobacco marketing. The Star-Ledger brings up the Ukraine-Australia spat (which Ukraine eventually dropped) and also included a video of the great John Oliver takedown of the tobacco industry on his show.

From the Star-Ledger:

It would be heartening for the Obama Administration to condemn the U.S. Chamber for supporting Big Tobacco, and let the world know that these entities do not speak for the United States. But so far the only righteous stand has come from CVS, which resigned its membership from the USCOC for trafficking in death. Until more corporations send that message, little will change.

Its domestic political influence has waned in recent years. Even when Donohue argues for the right things – such as immigration reform – House Republicans ignore him.

It remains very effective, however, in making money for its corporate partners, even when as wanders into ethical-dead zones under the pretense of “protecting intellectual property.”

But it is time the U.S. Chamber got out of the tobacco business and stopped prioritizing death over profit. And its 100 affiliates worldwide – including the one in New Jersey – should decry its policy of peddling poison.