U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Global Tobacco: The Heat Is On — Sign the Petition!

Signs of life regarding last week’s New York Time’s expose of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s role as the leading advocate around the globe to prevent governments from taking steps to control and reduce their citizens’ use of tobacco products:money-pile-188

  • Strong New York Times editorial, “Tarred by Tobacco:”
    • “Now that it is clear what kind of pro-tobacco advocacy the chamber is carrying out, the organization’s members, particularly in the health care industry, ought to speak out. Do they want their names associated with such a blatant attempt to stop governments in developing countries from enacting sensible public health policies?”
  • Strong Washington Post editorial:
    • “A chamber spokesman told us that the organization “is not an advocate for cigarette smoking and we know that smoking carries obvious health risks” but that the group is opposing encroachment on business rights. Does a health warning on a pack encroach on intellectual property of a cigarette company? We doubt it.”
  • Joint statement by U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown, Richard Blumenthal, Dick Durbin, Jeff Merkley, Al Franken, Elizabeth Warren, and Sheldon Whitehouse:
    • “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s decision to use its international clout to fight regulations of tobacco products around the world is craven and unconscionable. Commerce member companies should be concerned that their good name is sullied in efforts to strike down public health protections worldwide. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is, in effect, renting its letterhead and name to big tobacco, contrary to responsible corporate interests and Americans’ interests in improving global public health. We urge the chamber to rethink this strategy and instead find partners to help improve global public health, not strengthen efforts that will worsen the health of millions globally and cause innumerable deaths from tobacco usage.”
  • The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids has started a Facebook Petition to tell the Chamber to cut it out.  Add your name please!

Feeling the heat, the Chamber responded last week with this statement denying any pro-tobacco advocacy: “Yet while we do not support tobacco use, we still believe that governments should uphold intellectual property rights, adhere to international commitments, and promulgate rules that are sensible and effective. It is these concerns that have been the focus of our advocacy efforts on behalf of this and many other industries.”  Lot of running room their to serve the big corporate masters.

For rich detail on the longstanding love affair between the Chamber and the tobacco industry, check out this July 2 post on the DeSmog Blog that exposes the relationship.  Here’s one tidbit from a letter from Chamber President Thomas Donahue to RJ Reynolds, back in 1998, shortly after Donohue took charge:

I suggested that R.J. Reynolds take a leadership role and commit $100,000 a year for the next two years …

In exchange for your significant contribution, R.J. Reynolds will be invited to play a unique role in determining the future direction of the U .S. Chamber of Commerce. Through an informal “President’s Advisory Group” I will take your suggestions about the Chamber’s agenda-both broadly and specifically on issues of concern to your company. Through regular personal contact and three meetings annually, I will seek your guidance in forging a new direction for this great institution. …

In the meantime,  please call anytime the Chamber or I can be of any assistance.”

OK, this is a start, though will this be enough?  The first step should be disclosure  — how much money is the Chamber taking from the tobacco industry to carry their agenda around the globe?  One thing you can be sure about — they would not be doing this out of the goodness of their hearts.  Let’s find out — how much and from whom?

Maybe Steward Healthcare’s CEO Ralph de la Torre, who sits on the U.S. Chamber’s board of directors, can find out…

Let’s turn up the heat!

Author: John McDonough

I offer insights and opinions on how to improve health care systems for everyone

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