Philip Morris has filed suit against Uruguay, as the country looks to enlarge health warnings on packaging up to 80%, and require the tobacco giant to adjust packaging to plain or solid colors. Uruguay is one of the most economically developed countries in South America, with a high GDP per capita and the 50th highest quality of life in the world.
So what's the skinny on this national tobacco controversy? Dr. Raphael Lencucha, University of Lethbridge, Alberta explains that Philip Morris is exercising law regarding discriminatory treatment of trademarks protected by the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement.
The regulation of tobacco packaging, such as warning labels and plain packaging is an important intervention to both dissuade non-smokers from becoming smokers and encourage smokers to quit. It is also an intervention the tobacco industry has worked to resist in the past. Individuals with an interest in global health governance should follow Philip Morris' case against Uruguay with interest to observe whether, and if so how, international health law is used to support governmental decisions to protect health.
There is obvious division between the tobacco industry and countries trying to protect citizens by increasing control, advertising and packaging methods. The World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), to which Uruguay is a standing participant, does require countries to post warning labels of at least 30% coverage of the tobacco pack, and that warnings should be visible on all sides of the pack.
Uruguay wants to increase this by 50%, so Philip Morris has filed legal proceedings. The country continent of Australia is also facing legal confrontations with tobacco business as they have committed as a nation to plain packaging only within its ocean borders.
Lencucha points out the importance of the case in Uruguay and the potential global impact the outcome may influence.
The first pertains to the general debate about how health governance should be treated in view of trade and investment treaties. The second pertains to governmental control over health protection and promotion, and the third is related to precedence for future tobacco-control litigation and the power of FCTC to legitimise governmental tobacco-control legislation.
"Philip Morris versus Uruguay: health governance challenged"
The Lancet, Volume 376, Issue 9744, Pages 852 - 853, 11 September 2010
Written by: Sy Kraft, B.A. - Journalism - California State University, Northridge (CSUN)