Watch Out, World, Here Comes The Marlboro Man

In their negotiations with big tobacco, the attorneys general did a superb job of representing the interests of the states. The Clinton administration is studying the tobacco deal with an eye to protecting the federal interest in regulation. But who will protect the interests of the world as the tobacco industry compensates for lost smokers at home by more aggressive marketing overseas?

In Denver for the Summit of the Eight, President Clinton shrugged off the idea of international regulation, saying that other countries could follow the American example.

But the United States government is not a passive bystander. It subsidizes promotion of American tobacco products abroad. American embassies, under instruction from the US Departments of Agriculture and Commerce, have been known to lobby against foreign restrictions on American cigarettes.

Today, more American cigarettes are smoked abroad than at home. One-third of the cigarettes smoked worldwide are smoked in China, most of them of Chinese manufacture. But big tobacco is out to change that.

Some of the more developed countries with advanced legal systems, such as Britain, Israel, and Taiwan, are considering their own regulations and their own suits against the tobacco industry. But millions of people in Eastern Europe and in the third world are sitting ducks for Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man (Marlboro being the most popular cigarette abroad).

In Eastern Europe, state tobacco monopolies have been sold off to transnational companies with heavy American involvement. American exports of tobacco products have tripled in the past 20 years since the dangers of smoking became an issue in America.

IN the next 40 years, the World Health Organization estimates 10 million tobacco-related deaths worldwide, 70 percent of them in developing countries. Dr. Judith Mackay, who directs an Asian antitobacco group in Hong Kong, says, "The reality is that the more the noose tightens in the US, the more the industry looks to foreign markets."

In the past, public health officials abroad have complained that insecticides and pharmaceuticals banned in the United States because of health risks have continued to be marketed overseas, especially in developing countries.

And so when President Clinton says that other governments have primary responsibility for the health of their own people, he neglects to say that officially supported marketing of American cigarettes makes the job of these countries much harder.

America already has the dubious distinction of being the world's biggest exporter of arms. Now, it may also become the leading exporter of tobacco and its related health problems.

* Daniel Schorr is senior news analyst for National Public Radio.

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