Should tobacco be like any other product in U.S. trade? The question bedeviled U.S. policymakers for decades, but it has now arisen again, with much controversy, in the context of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the pending trade deal between the United States and eleven other countries.
The White House has tried to finesse the issue, recently proposing that the TPP agreement acknowledge tobacco as a health concern but otherwise treat it no differently from other products. That compromise has satisfied no one. Health advocates are furious that the White House dropped its previous proposal for a stronger tobacco control exception in the TPP agreement. The business community opposes any special treatment for tobacco. With that controversy spilling into the press and threatening the conclusion of the TPP talks—the Obama administration’s signature international economic initiative—the White House should now formally resolve the question of the role of tobacco in U.S. trade policy. That answer is expected to come next week, when the final formal round of TPP negotiations commences in Washington, D.C.
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