The Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program at VCU recently welcomed two special speakers – Carlos Gianelli, Uruguay’s ambassador to the United States, and Marianela Bruno, legal adviser – at the invitation of current Humphrey fellow Elisa Cabrera. Gianelli and Bruno spoke to current Humphrey fellows and program staff about Uruguay's successful legal battles with the tobacco company Philip Morris in the country’s efforts to regulate tobacco.
Some of these efforts included a ban on smoking in public spaces, raising taxes on tobacco products, a requirement to include large warnings and graphic images on cigarette packs, and the prohibition of using the words "light" and "mild" on cigarette packages. Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez, an oncologist, helped spearhead the measures during his first term in office from 2005 to 2010.
Philip Morris felt the single presentation requirement and the health warnings (80/80) on the cigarettes’ packaging (part of Uruguay's anti-smoking legislation) devalued its cigarette trademarks and investments in the country and, as a result, sued Uruguay for $25 million. The lawsuit, which continued over several years, was presented at the World Bank's International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes in February 2010 under the bilateral investment treaty between Switzerland and Uruguay. In July 2016, two of three arbitrators ruled that Uruguay had the right to continue its anti-smoking legislation and that Philip Morris should reimburse Uruguay’s legal costs.
The speakers’ presentation included an overview of the dispute, the adoption of laws and regulations to protect public health as a sovereign right, and legal findings. Gianelli provided fellows and staff with deep insight into the legal aspects of the lawsuit, including how the ruling prioritized the basic rights of people over the protection of investments – the main message this case sent to the world.
Another important result of this case was Philip Morris’ declaration to refrain from using these instruments to initiate legal proceedings against countries adopting the FCTC instrumentation measures in the future.
Gianelli and Bruno also highlighted the process by which legal decisions parlay general principles into actionable policies. The Philip Morris case, they said, was effective in establishing the right of the state to protect public health by demonstrating the link between public health and human rights – two concepts enshrined in the preamble of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) to which the ruling specifically refers.
Finally, Gianelli described the positive impact the case has had on the working relationship between Uruguay’s Public Health and Foreign Relations Ministries. Efforts will made to consolidate this joint and coordinated work, and raise awareness about the critical nature of this issue for the country (and not just at the public policy and foreign policy level).
Gianelli’s presentation, “Tobacco Industry Interference on the Implementation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control,” is available for sharing by sending a request via email to Maria Elisa Cabrera at firstname.lastname@example.org.