FDA Tobacco Regulation Bill May Trigger Trade Dispute

The FDA tobacco regulation bill poised to pass Congress may trigger a trade dispute with Indonesia, according to the Asia Times. Indonesia objects to the fact that the bill would ban clove cigarettes (produced by Indonesia) while permitting the continued sale of menthol cigarettes. (Only a tiny fraction — perhaps 1/1,000th — of American smokers smoke clove cigarettes).

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country (and historically one of the most friendly), argues that this is discriminatory and not justified by any health concerns, since it claims clove cigarettes are no more dangerous than menthol cigarettes.

Earlier, the Indonesian government protested that the bill, if enacted, would violate the WTO Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Safeguards. If a country is found to violate a WTO Agreement, that can have major consequences. It sometimes leads to a country’s exports being subject to WTO-backed sanctions, resulting in job losses in its export sector.

The FDA tobacco regulation bill, known as the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Act, has also been criticized on health grounds, since it would make it harder to market reduced-risk tobacco products and smokeless tobacco to smokers. The bill would give the FDA regulatory oversight over the tobacco industry, although it would not allow the FDA to ban cigarettes.