WASHINGTON — In Chicago last month, 4,500 public-health specialists held a World Conference on Tobacco and Health, sharing the latest knowledge on cigarettes and disease. They cited global statistics indicating that tobacco kills someone every 8 seconds, amounting to 4 million deaths a year - 70 percent of them in the developing world - and expected to rise to 10 million in the next 30 years.
In Geneva next month, the 191 members of the World Health Organization will begin the long process of negotiating a framework convention on tobacco control. If this survives the concentrated attack of the tobacco industry, it would be the first legally binding treaty devoted to health. In Boston last week, the University of Massachusetts released a study showing that 12- and 13-year-olds can become addicted within days of lighting their first cigarettes.
And yet, in the US House of Representatives last week, an administration-endorsed bill was passed by an overwhelming 315 to 109, providing $4 billion to $6 billion in tax-break subsidies for export of products like airplanes. And cigarettes.
A no-amendment rule protected the cigarette subsidy from the few, like Henry Waxman (D) of California, who asked why America was engaged in the "export of death and disease." Lloyd Doggett (D) of Texas said President Clinton had told him he favored removing tobacco from the export subsidy list, but the administration did nothing to make that happen.
You understand, of course, why cigarette exports are so important to American companies. The campaign against smoking in many states has reduced the American market and today more American cigarettes are smoked abroad than at home.
Cigarette exports have tripled in recent years. The Marlboro Man is alive and well in many developing countries that lack the legal resources to protect their populations. President Clinton has shrugged off the idea of international regulation.
And now, thanks to the House bill, which is expected to pass the Senate without trouble, American companies will enjoy about $100 million in tax breaks to help them peddle cigarettes around the world. Which will ensure that America, the leading exporter of arms, also remains the leading exporter of tobacco-related illnesses.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society