Rhetoric and the law, or the law of rhetoric: How countries oppose novel tobacco control measures at the World Trade Organization

Soc Sci Med. 2016 Sep;164:100-107. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2016.07.026. Epub 2016 Jul 25.


The tobacco industry has developed an extensive array of strategies and arguments to prevent or weaken government regulation. These strategies and arguments are well documented at the domestic level. However, there remains a need to examine how these arguments are reflected in the challenges waged by governments within the World Trade Organization (WTO). Decisions made at the WTO have the potential to shape how countries govern. Our analysis was conducted on two novel tobacco control measures: tobacco additives bans (Canada, United States and Brazil) and plain, standardized packaging of tobacco products (Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, EU and UK). We analyzed WTO documents (i.e. meeting minutes and submissions) (n = 62) in order to identify patterns of argumentation and compare these patterns with well-documented industry arguments. The pattern of these arguments reveal that despite the unique institutional structure of the WTO, country representatives opposing novel tobacco control measures use the same non-technical arguments as those that the tobacco industry continues to use to oppose these measures at the domestic level.

Keywords: Government regulation; Tobacco control; Tobacco industry; Trade law.

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • Commerce / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Global Health
  • Government Regulation*
  • Humans
  • Ireland
  • New Zealand
  • Product Packaging / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Tobacco Industry / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Tobacco Products / adverse effects
  • Tobacco Products / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • United Kingdom
  • United States