Friday, August 25, 2006

US Ambassador Ralph Boyce lobbies for more free trade in American cigarettes to Thailand

This is really sad and disappointing. Up until now, Ralph Boyce was one of the more respected members of the foreign diplomatic establishment in Bangkok. An affable and charismatic guy who learned to speak near fluent Thai in advance of his posting, he was the darling of the Thai media and an excellent spokesperson for US interests in Thailand. How he could rationalize lobbying the Thai government to relax it's smoking cessation measures on behalf of US tobacco firms, is beyond me. Totally despicable and immoral.

This also comes at a time of political turmoil, as Prime Minister Thaksin is widely seen as selling out the country for foreign interests, in particular the US , vis a vis the recently proposed US-Thai Free Trade Agreement. This finally gives the anti-US and anti-FTA contingent a really excellent case in point to work with.

US envoy under fire after meeting Phinij

Ambassador 'supports alcohol, tobacco firms'

The National Health Foundation (NHF) yesterday denounced the US ambassador to Thailand and US alcohol and tobacco companies for calling for a revision of the Public Health Ministry's liquor and tobacco advertisement control act. The move came after Ambassador Ralph Boyce led representatives of the US-Asean Business Council, tobacco manufacturer Philip Morris, alcohol firms Diageo and Riche Monde, and pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly in a meeting with caretaker Public Health Minister Phinij Jarusombat and senior officials of the Disease Control Department and the Food and Drug Administration on Thursday.

Hatai Chitanondh, president of the Health Promotion Institute under the NHF, said in a statement that the move reflected Mr Boyce's strong support for the liquor and tobacco industries, despite the US government's policy instructing US embassies worldwide to refrain from supporting liquor and tobacco businesses. [ed. I hope this is the case. It is unconscionable for the ambassador of a civilized country to represent tobacco interests to the 3rd world.]

Dr Hatai said Public Health officials should not negotiate with the companies because their businesses will never benefit the public. He said he would coordinate with health advocates in the US to keep a close watch on Mr Boyce's actions involving the support of liquor and tobacco companies.

''The negotiation marks the first step for both the US and the Thai sides to work together. Hopefully we will have more opportunities in the future,'' Mr Boyce said after the meeting, which was held for the first time in 15 years.

Mr Phinij said the meeting mainly focused on bilateral cooperation in which the Americans called for help ''to strengthen alcohol and tobacco businesses in Thailand''.

A ban on alcohol and tobacco advertisements seemed to be the main trade barrier in the US' point of view.
It also asked the ministry to ensure fair treatment as cigar producers were not facing the same controls, according to Mr Phinij.

Unlike cigars, the ministry employs strict controls on cigarette producers by imposing high taxes and requiring the manufacturers to print health warning labels on cigarette packets.

The advertisement of liquor products is allowed on television only after 10pm.

Watchara Panchet, assistant to the public health minister, said it was necessary to take the US proposals into account for the benefit of Thai entrepreneurs in the US.

However, the ministry did not make any commitments during the closed-door meeting, he said.

Narong Sahamethapat, deputy director-general of the Disease Control Department, said the authority would continue to discourage alcohol and tobacco consumption in the country.

He said tobacco manufacturers would soon be required to label the hazardous chemical contents of cigarettes that could cause cancer.

A regulation to ban the use of the terms ''light'' and ''mild'' on cigarette packets, which have misled people into believing that some brands were less harmful to health than regular brands, will come into effect in October.

The new regulation would also cover cigars and tobacco leaves, he said.