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Largest US trade group is fighting anti-smoking laws overseas

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The largest trade group in the US is using its size and strength to fight against anti-smoking regulations on behalf of the tobacco industry. But according to The New York Times, its aims aren't limited to the US: its lobbying campaign for tobacco actually stretches worldwide.

Helping American tobacco by lobbying abroad

The group, the US Chamber of Commerce (which sounds a lot like — but is very much not — the federal Department of Commerce), says that it represents the interests of businesses small and large in DC. It obviously does a lot more. Emails and other documents reported on by the Times show how the trade group is confronting individual countries as anti-smoking regulations arise. The Chamber approached at least seven countries, including Nepal, Uruguay, and the Philippines, over issues ranging from increased cigarette taxes to public smoking bans. Its argument is that a country's economy could suffer if the tobacco industry is harmed, but the Times says that the group's broader goal seems to be putting more money in its members' pockets. It reportedly spends more money on lobbying than any other US interest group, though that money is likely divided among other issues.

The Chamber's goals very clearly go against global tobacco-reduction objectives. Around 170 countries have approved tobacco-control measures as part of a World Health Organization public health treaty. The US has its own goals, which include reducing tobacco usage by adults and teens, establishing new state laws prohibiting smoking in public areas, and increasing tobacco taxes. It's a pretty critical public health goal — the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that about one in five American deaths each year is due to cigarette smoking — but the Chamber of Commerce appears to be interested in fighting it back in countries where the laws are still strengthening, seemingly so that the US tobacco industry can remain strong.

That anti-regulatory approach seems to be losing the Chamber some big fans, including Apple and Nike. The Times reports that both companies left the trade group in 2009 over its opposition to preventing climate change through emissions regulations. However, several other large companies — including some that you might not expect to take part in those group — remain members. That reportedly includes Google and Pfizer. In a statement to the Times, the US Chamber of Commerce says its lobbying is about preventing countries from discriminating "against particular companies or industries." Those industries, it seems, just happen to be bad for public health.