Public health advocates in the Asia-Pacific region want tobacco excluded from the products covered by a proposed regional free trade agreement.
The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement would otherwise undermine international efforts to curb cigarette companies’ advertising, the Asia Pacific Association for the Control of Tobacco (APACT) said in a statement August 20.
The call came during the 10th APACT Conference, which drew more than 700 delegates from 40 countries to Tokyo last week, among them Seventh-day Adventists. The trade partnership, delegates said, would give tobacco companies more traction to sue countries over advertising bans or other public health measures designed to restrict the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products.
Several major tobacco companies recently sued the Thai government for increasing the size of graphic health warnings on cigarette packs from 55 percent to 85 percent.
“APACT was organized to protect Asia from the tobacco industry,” said Kyoichi Miyazaki, secretary-general of the non-governmental organization and Adventist Church member. “We are dedicated to continuing that legacy and ending the tobacco epidemic in Asia.”
Indeed, APACT was established in 1989 to fight trade sanctions designed to promote the free sale of tobacco products in Korea, Japan, Thailand and Taiwan.
Since then, the organization has worked to stem the flow of tobacco to developing countries in Asia by implementing aggressive tobacco control programs, including bans on cigarette smoking, restriction of smoking in public places and comprehensive educational and intervention programs, Miyazaki said.
APACT founder Dr. David Yen was a major advocate for emerging tobacco control in the region and lobbied aggressively for anti-tobacco legislation, Miyazaki said during a keynote speech to honor the late leader.
Dr. Yen frequently enlisted actors and other celebrities to raise awareness of the dangers of smoking, among them Jackie Chan, who starred in an anti-tobacco initiative called “Strike Back Against Tobacco” in 2001.
Still, Asia remains a challenging region for tobacco control, Miyazaki and other advocates said. As developed counties toughen their restrictions on smoking, tobacco companies increasingly focus on developing countries, where they face less resistance. Trade agreements that classify tobacco as a legal commodity make it difficult for small countries to fight these efforts.
“The [Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement] does not recognize tobacco as a uniquely harmful product or provide safe harbor for nations to regulate in order to reduce tobacco use,” a statement released last week by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said. “The tobacco industry and its allies in government increasingly use trade and investment agreements to challenge legitimate tobacco control measures.”
Miyazaki agreed, noting that the current political party in Japan does not favor tobacco control. But despite the challenges, he said advocates “can have a great impact on the Japanese government by showing how many Asian countries have been negatively affected by the tobacco industry in Japan.”
The Adventist Church was an early leader fighting tobacco. As far back as 1848, church co-founder Ellen White wrote about the health risks associated with smoking. In Asia, the church continues to host smoking-cessation programs and stop smoking clinics. Miyazaki, who previously served as Health Ministries director for the Adventist Church in Japan, was active in launching some of these efforts.
Dr. Peter Landless, Health Ministries director for the Seventh-day Adventist world church, attended the APACT conference and applauded Miyazaki’s decades of temperance and anti-tobacco work in the region.
“This event and the leading role of a Seventh-day Adventist in anti-tobacco work in this very challenging region is big news, Landless said. “We are often chided that our church and its members have lost the vision in opposing tobacco; here is news to the contrary.”