In the United States, less people are smoking this decade than ever before — the hard-won result of years of awareness campaigns, anti-tobacco taxes and regulations, and changing social norms. But it's not that way everywhere, which is why a couple of high-profile billionaires are getting in the mix: Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg's anti-tobacco legal fund will help countries combat the influence of Big Tobacco worldwide.
The fund presently sits at $4 million, according to The Guardian, squared away to help provide legal advice to countries that are coming up against expensive litigation from tobacco companies over cigarette regulations. Whether its exorbitant taxes, health warnings, or so-called "plain packaging" laws, there are plenty of anti-tobacco efforts being made by foreign governments that Big Tobacco is none too pleased by. And in spite of their stigmatization, they're still an enormously wealthy industry, entirely capable of burning money to challenge the rights of countries to regulate them.
It's a problem that you may have heard of recently, especially if you're a viewer of HBO's Last Week Tonight. Ever-clever host John Oliver did one of his prototypically long segments on the situation, detailing how tobacco companies are fighting to expand their market in less-regulated developing nations as many wealthier countries have taken steps to curb the habit. It's hardly a brisk watch at 18 minutes, but well worth your time if you've got it. (Be forewarned: includes footage of a cartoonish, dancing anthropomorphic diseased lung.)
Luckily, Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are stepping in to provide some financial support to countries that come under this sort of litigation. Obviously, the current figure of $4 million is a modest sum for them in relative terms, and it could be less than ideal given the resources these countries are up against. But everything needs to start somewhere, and both Gates and Bloomberg's philanthropic principles have gotten the ball rolling in a big way. As detailed by Reuters, Bloomberg explained the partnership's goals to reports Wednesday.
This new fund is going to help countries who are sued by the tobacco industry fight back in court and win. ... This is not about trade. No one is a stronger supporter of capitalism and trade than I am. This is about sovereignty and whether a country has the right to set its own public health policies.
Of course Michael Bloomberg would have to throw in an aside about being pro-capitalism — green runs through his veins, after all. Here's hoping that the Gates family and Bloomberg are successful in the venture, because public health policies work better without Big Tobacco's gilded wallets getting involved.
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