As sales to developing nations become ever more important to giant tobacco companies, they are stepping up efforts around the world to fight tough restrictions on the marketing of cigarettes.
Companies like Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco are contesting limits on ads in Britain, bigger health warnings in South America and higher cigarette taxes in the Philippines and Mexico.
They are also spending billions on lobbying and marketing campaigns in Africa and Asia, and in one case provided undisclosed financing for TV commercials in Australia.
The industry has ramped up its efforts in advance of a gathering in Uruguay this week of public health officials from 171 nations, who plan to shape guidelines to enforce a global anti-smoking treaty.
This year, Philip Morris International sued the government of Uruguay, saying its tobacco norms were excessive.
World Health Organization officials say the suit represents an effort by the industry to intimidate the nations that are considering strict marketing requirements for tobacco.
Uruguay’s groundbreaking law mandates that health warnings cover 80% of cigarette packages.
The lawsuit against Uruguay, filed at a World Bank affiliate in Washington, seeks unspecified damages for lost profits.
“They’re using litigation to threaten low — and middle — income countries,” says Dr. Douglas Bettcher, head of the W.H.O.’s Tobacco Free Initiative. Uruguay’s gross domestic profit is half the size of the company’s $66 billion in annual sales.
Peter Nixon, a vice president and spokesman for Philip Morris International, said the company was complying with every nation’s marketing laws while selling a lawful product for adult consumers.
Cigarette companies are aggressively recruiting new customers in developing nations, Dr. Bettcher said, to replace those who are quitting or dying in the US and Europe, where smoking rates have fallen precipitously. Worldwide cigarette sales are rising 2% a year. nyt