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Uruguay celebrates victory in protecting its health policy against legal attacks from Philip Morris International

11 Jul 2016

In 2010, PMI, one of the world’s largest corporations, took Uruguay, one of the world’s smallest countries, to court. The corporation was seeking compensation for health policies (such as graphic health warnings covering 80% of the surface area of tobacco packaging) that it claimed devalued its brand and investments.

On Friday 8 July, the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) ruled in favour of Uruguay on 12 of the 14 points of dispute. The ruling has international repercussions for tobacco control, setting a precedent that favours public health over commercial interests.

The World Heart Federation Board is sending its personal congratulations to President Vázquez of Uruguay for this victory in public health.   Last month at the WHF World Congress of Cardiology & Cardiovascular Health in Mexico City President Vazquez explained how the tobacco control measures in the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) have led to an unprecedented drop in smoking rates in Uruguay, especially among youth, and have reduced heart attacks by 22%. He characterized the Philip Morris lawsuit as a big company suing a small country in order to stop its efforts to improve its people’s health.

In his analysis of the case, Matt Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, has commented:

“The ruling is 100% positive on every issue. It makes clear the right of countries to take strong action; prioritizes health; gives credence to the FCTC, recognizes that small countries can rely on international research to support their actions; effectively dispels any notion of a right to use trademarks; prevents the industry from playing games by claiming a policy didn’t work; gives full leeway to 80% labels; recognizes the right of countries to try new things (single presentation) if they think it will work; and makes PMI pay the expenses of the case.”

For background to the 2010 lawsuit, read our interview with Dr Eduardo Bianco, Framework Alliance for Tobacco Control (FCA)’s regional Director for the Americas and President of the Tobacco Epidemic Research Center of Uruguay, and co-author of the WHF’s CVD Roadmap on Tobacco Control.