In a historic public health victory that will be felt around the world, Uruguay has won an international legal battle against Philip Morris International to uphold its strong laws to reduce tobacco use. The event was underlined by international philanthropies, which also supported Uruguay during the litigation.
More than six years after Philip Morris launched its legal attack, an arbitration tribunal of the World Bank today ruled in Uruguay's favor and strongly rejected Philip Morris' challenge to two laws adopted by Uruguay to reduce the death and disease caused by tobacco use. One law requires graphic warnings covering 80% of the front and back of cigarette packs, while the other limits each cigarette brand to one pack presentation in order to prevent the use of terms (such as light and mild) and colors to falsely imply that some cigarettes are less harmful.
Statement by Michael R. Bloomberg, Founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and three-term Mayor of New York City
This is a major victory for the people of Uruguay – and it shows countries everywhere that they can stand up to tobacco companies and win. Governments should always be able to protect people's health and safety, and we're committed to helping them when tobacco companies try to stand in the way. No country should ever be intimidated by the threat of a tobacco company lawsuit, and this case will help embolden more nations to take actions that will save lives.
Statement by Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
This ruling is of global significance because it affirms the sovereign right not only of Uruguay, but of all countries, to protect the health of their citizens by adopting effective measures to reduce tobacco use. It is also a powerful rebuke of Philip Morris, which has abused international trade and investment agreements to challenge strong tobacco control laws in Uruguay and other countries in recent years.
Philip Morris thought it could bully Uruguay into backing down from its strong tobacco control laws and, by doing so, intimidate countries all across the globe. Instead, Uruguay courageously fought back. Uruguay's refusal to be cowed by Philip Morris and its overwhelming victory demonstrate that all countries, regardless of their size or wealth, can stand up to the tobacco industry and successfully defend their life-saving laws. This ruling should spur countries around the world to quickly and fully implement the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control – a public health treaty that has been ratified by 180 parties. Without strong action now, tobacco will kill one billion people worldwide this century.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids applauds Uruguay and President Tabaré Vázquez for their courageous leadership in the fight against tobacco, both in enacting strong tobacco control laws and standing up to Philip Morris. The two laws upheld today are part of Uruguay's comprehensive approach to reducing tobacco use, which also includes a 100% smoke-free law, a ban on tobacco advertising and significant tobacco tax increases. Today, youth smoking in Uruguay is at 8%, down from 23% percent in 2007. To continue making progress, President Vázquez has announced plans to introduce legislation requiring plain packaging for tobacco products.
Philip Morris challenged Uruguay's laws as a violation of a bilateral investment treaty between Uruguay and Switzerland, where Philip Morris is incorporated. The case was heard at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, an arbitration panel of the World Bank. The government of Uruguay released the decision on Friday. In addition to ruling in Uruguay's favor, the panel also ordered Philip Morris to pay Uruguay's legal costs.
Uruguay's victory is the latest in a series of legal blows for tobacco companies fighting strong tobacco control measures. In December 2015, an international tribunal threw out a challenge by Philip Morris International to Australia's pioneering law requiring that cigarettes be sold in plain packaging, concluding the claim was an abuse of rights. In May, the United Kingdom High Court upheld that country's plain packaging law, and the European Union´s Court of Justice upheld new tobacco regulations, including a requirement for large, graphic health warnings and authority for EU countries to adopt plain packaging.
Together, these rulings have created tremendous momentum for global efforts to fight tobacco use and sent a clear message that tobacco companies cannot be allowed to put profits above lives.
Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids provided financial support and technical assistance to the Uruguayan government's legal team. In 2015, Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation also established the Anti-Tobacco Litigation Fund to assist low- and middle-income countries facing similar lawsuits.