Philip Morris is using American farmers again — this time as the sympathetic face on a campaign to muscle tobacco into a free-trade agreement among Pacific Rim nations.
The Obama administration and the eight other governments should just say no to including a deadly export in a pact that's supposed to lower consumers' costs and stimulate national economies.
Tobacco use is the world's No. 1 cause of preventable death. If introduced today, cigarettes would be laughed off the market.
Yet Philip Morris has used trade agreements to challenge cigarette labeling requirements in Australia and Uruguay.
The American Medical Association and the Public Health Association of Australia oppose including tobacco in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement that's under negotiation.
Considering the huge public costs of tobacco use, governments would be crazy to give cigarette makers another weapon to beat back public-health policies.
American tobacco growers won't lose any existing markets if tobacco is left out of the Trans-Pacific treaty. None of the eight nations are significant markets for American leaf. There's no reason that the more than two-thirds of U.S. tobacco that's now exported would not continue to be exported.
The first surgeon general's warning about tobacco was issued 48 years ago. Yet farmers who have been interviewed about the Pacific Rim agreement sound just like their daddies and granddaddies, vowing they can't keep farming without the high income from tobacco.
Some of those interviewed are talking about the ripple effects of tobacco sales on tractor and fertilizer dealers — all while U.S. agriculture booms, fueled by demand for grain and cattle.
Right on cue, Kentucky politicians, including Gov. Steve Beshear and Sen. Mitch McConnell, are joining the "help-our-farmers-sell-more-baccy" chorus.
If all this rings phony, it's because tobacco growers have been compensated for their losses more than any other victims of economic displacement.
During the first decade of this century, tobacco growers and landowners received almost $15 billion in direct payments through phase 2 of the tobacco master settlement and a quota buyout.
The main thrust of the 1998 master settlement was to pay the states $206 billion over 25 years in compensation for treating sick smokers. Facing a steep decline in demand for tobacco, Kentucky decided to devote half of its settlement money to agriculture.
Since 2001, more than $368 million has flowed from Kentucky's share of the tobacco settlement into county, regional and state projects designed to increase net farm income and create sustainable farm-based business enterprises.
No government should be doing anything to increase dependence on tobacco, whether it's the physical addiction of smokers or the economic dependence of farmers.
And that includes trade agreements, no matter how much pressure a multinational giant like Philip Morris brings to bear.