US to skip Putin's WHO tobacco conference

The World Health Organization (WHO) is preparing to host their week long Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) meeting this month. In it they will discuss a variety of “global” measures dealing with tobacco products, (which I’ve written about before) as well as new, smokeless e-cigarettes. But the meeting is being hosted in Moscow, and given the recent relations between Washington and Vladimir Putin, it may come as no surprise that we’re going to pass on it.

In a shot at Russian President Vladimir Putin, the United States will not send a delegation to Moscow this month to participate in global health talks that hold major implications for the tobacco and burgeoning e-cigarette industries.

The decision to sit out the weeklong Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) meetings is based on U.S. displeasure over Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine in recent months, said Bill Hall, director of the news division at the Department of Health and Human Services.

I have to admit that my first reaction to reading this news was to say, good. Who needs them? We aren’t going to allow the WHO to start imposing taxes in the United States and they can’t do it without the US Congress agreeing to it anyway. Also, in terms of whatever plans they may be hatching, the US doesn’t even get to vote on the proposals because we’re not signatories on the FCTC treaty, so what’s the point?

But as the article notes, there are still those who listen to the United States and there is a larger issue which we might speak to, even without voting.

A provisional agenda also includes discussion of “price and tax measures to reduce the demand for tobacco,” an item that has the tobacco industry on edge.

Quarles, who also sits on the Kentucky Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative (burley is a type of tobacco), pointed to reports indicating that a proposal to add a new 75 percent excise tax on cigarettes would be part of that discussion.

While the tax wouldn’t be levied on cigarettes sold in the United States, it would be devastating for the American tobacco industry, he said. Roughly 75 percent of burley grown in the U.S. — most of it in Kentucky and Tennessee — is exported.

A large tax, he said, could cause demand to plummet, costing jobs and damaging the economy. Meanwhile, he cited studies showing that higher prices for premium cigarettes don’t deter smoking, but rather cause smokers to turn to illicit brands.

I’m not sure what good it would do, given that almost all of the attendees are likely there for the purpose of jacking up tobacco taxes across the globe, but it wouldn’t hurt to have someone there speaking on behalf of American manufacturers. Even if they can’t raise our taxes, they could cut down severely on exports, and with a vast number of Americans already out of the labor force, that’s probably more news we don’t need. Of course, that would require the Obama administration to send someone who was actually interested in speaking up for us, rather than cheerleading for the tax increase crowd, which doesn’t sound all that likely either.