Bloomberg Backs Uruguay’s Anti-Smoking Laws

November 15, 2010

Source: The New York Times


Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York telephoned the Uruguay’s president, José Mujica, on Monday morning to pledge his financial assistance to that nation’s fight against the world’s leading cigarette company.

Mr. Bloomberg, a billionaire with a long record of antismoking activism, made the announcement after a front-page article in The New York Times on Sunday detailed some of the lobbying, marketing and court activities by multinational tobacco companies.

On Monday afternoon, Mr. Bloomberg announced at a news conference that he would direct to Uruguay’s legal defense some of the $375 million he has set aside in a philanthropy to fight smoking. In a news release, he did not name a precise figure.

Uruguay, viewed as a world leader in antismoking laws, is being sued by Philip Morris International in a Washington-based affiliate of the World Bank. The cigarette giant objects to two new Uruguayan laws. One covers 80 percent of the front and back of cigarette packages with a graphic health warning. The other bans more than one type of any brand of cigarette, such as Marlboro red, gold and silver.

The suit has rallied antismoking forces globally. They interpreted it as an attempt to intimidate Uruguay and send a message to other developing nations on the eve of a conference of tobacco control officials from 171 nations. The conference in Punta del Este, Uruguay, is expected to produce guidelines to enforce a broad antismoking treaty sponsored by the World Health Organization.

In the press release, Mr. Bloomberg said his money “will assist Uruguayan government officials by providing legal research and expertise, launching public education mass media campaigns, and galvanizing world support and public opinion.”

Peter Nixon, a spokesman for Philip Morris International, said in recent interviews that the lawsuit was necessary to protect the company’s trademark and intellectual property rights. He said its filing in February was unrelated to the conference of tobacco control officials. The suit seeks unspecified damages.

Of the size of the health warning, Mr. Nixon said, “The previous ones were 50 percent and we thought that was reasonable. Once you take it up to 80 percent, there’s no space for trademarks to be shown. So we thought that was going too far.” The limit on brands, he added, forced Philip Morris to remove a number of brands from the market.

A group of health-related nonprofit organizations bought a full-page advertisement in Uruguay’s leading newspaper Monday to thank the country’s president for standing up to tobacco companies. Philip Morris International’s $66 billion in annual revenues is twice the size of Uruguay’s gross domestic product.