Uruguay tobacco dispute heats up

By

 Updated:

Uruguay, a focus of ICIJ’s “Smoke Screen,” a series this week on tobacco industry lobbying in developing nations, is back in the news with President José Mujica’s blast against tobacco giant Philip Morris International, which earlier this year filed a billion-dollar claim against the country’s proposed tough restrictions on cigarette sales.

The series is available at www.icij.org.

In remarks to a conference on tobacco controls and public health, Mujica said “Tobacco, like war, causes death among citizens of the world, while it enriches a few.”

“(Philip Morris) is interested in giving a warning to Uruguay and in intimidating other countries that might follow its course,” he added. “Philip Morris, will spare no resources to achieve its objective. It has much money, and money is power – for frivolity and corruption.”

Philip Morris claimed in an international trade dispute court of the World Bank that Uruguay’s tough anti-tobacco measures – covering most of a cigarette pack with stern pictographic health warnings and limiting the variety of brands a tobacco company can sell – deny its right to sell a legal product.

In remarks at the World Health Organization’s forum on tobacco control in Punta del Este, Uruguay, Mujica reminded delegates of his own experience with cigarettes: how becoming a political prisoner during the country’s dirty wars got him to stop smoking. “As punishment, they would deny me cigarettes.” What Uguguay’s junta did, however, is convince me it was time to quit, Mujica said.

With financial assistance from anti-tobacco activists, Mujica has signaled of late that he’s willing to face Philip Morris in international court over Uruguay’s tough tobacco controls, reversing an earlier retreat from the reforms – a back-step he had said was due to the country’s legal and financial mismatch against the multinational cigarette maker’s $62 billion in revenues.

This week, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke via telephone with Mujica, and then announced his support of the Uruguayan government in the coming legal battle with Philip Morris.

ICIJ’s “Smoke Screen,” includes an inside look at what’s behind the Uruguay controversy, as well as stories from Russia and Mexico that show how Big Tobacco is lobbying hard in developing nations to spur sales.

More stories about

Care about freedom of the press? Support independent investigative journalism.

Donate now
Donate now