Ashes to ashes

THREE years ago, the government of Togo, which has a gross domestic product of $4 billion, received a letter from Philip Morris International, a tobacco giant which last year earned revenues of $74 billion. The country had been mulling bringing in plain packaging for cigarette boxes. It would risk “violating the Togolese constitution”, the firm’s subsidiary explained, “providing tobacco manufacturers the right to significant compensation.” It then outlined how plain packaging would violate binding global and regional agreements. Togo was in no position to anger its international partners, it suggested.

For health advocates, such tactics are the last refuge of firms they have long denounced. But tobacco companies will do what they can to protect their packaging. They detest warnings with repulsive images of decaying body parts. In 2010 Philip Morris sued Uruguay, claiming that big warnings on boxes violated a trade deal. Then two years later Australia became the first country to go further, banishing iconic trademarks from tobacco packs. Its law mandates that brand names—such as Marlboro, Winfield...Continue reading