You might wonder how Thomas J. Donohue, 77, the head of the American Chamber of Commerce, sleeps at night.
The Irish American Brooklyn native is spending an increasing amount of time these days trying to force countries overseas to drop their attempts to limit smoking and impose tobacco bans.
Last year in Ireland, 5,200 people died of lung cancer directly related to smoking. Donohue clearly would like to see more get the habit.
Ireland is about to enact a major ban on tobacco advertising and marketing, with standardized packaging across all cigarette brands, as well as portraying stark and scary messages on tobacco packs.
Donohue, who's paid $3.7million a year in part to promote tobacco and its inevitable outcome, lung cancer, will have none of it. He also flies in a private jet when promoting his ‘defend tobacco’ message.
He warned Irish leader Enda Kenny in March that Ireland’s tobacco packaging ban was a “denial of trademark rights” and “damaging to Ireland’s interests.”
“Furthermore, we are concerned that standardized packaging potentially violates important aspects of Ireland’s international commitments,” he wrote.
Last week he was at it again writing to the Irish government, “We understand that your Cabinet is poised to consider legislation that would impose plain packaging requirements on tobacco products,” wrote Donohue. He said the measure would “undercut well-established protections for intellectual property” without evidence of its effectiveness.
In other words, expect major lawsuits backed by Donohue and his organization when Ireland introduces the ban.
To his eternal credit, Irish Minister for Children (previously Minister for Health) James Reilly refused to back down after Donohue's warning.
“I believe their arguments today remain as bogus and as dishonest as they have been for the past five decades,” the Minister said. “The tobacco industry has a dark track record of hiding the truth to protect its profits. Don’t expect it to change now.”
Tobacco giant JTI Ireland has threatened legal action if Reilly proceeds with the bill.
The Irish Examiner reported that Reilly said he and his government would “not be intimidated by external forces,” and that the State owes it to the “5,200 people who die every year” from lung cancer.
Reilly, a medical doctor, said he would not only “continue with his plain-packaging plans but will now redouble efforts to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to under-18s and limit their adult sales in pharmacies.” He said tobacco firms were investing in the products to “'enslave' a new generation of smokers.”
The battle lines have been drawn. JTI Ireland's general manager Igor Dzaja said his company “stands ready” to file legal proceedings. No doubt Donohue and his American Chamber of Horrors will be on board.
The New York Times reported on Tuesday that Donohue is intent on attacking tobacco efforts all over the world. An Australian ban is being fiercely challenged in court by forces closely tied to the American Chamber, which seems to be a wholly owned subsidiary of the tobacco industry.
In a bizarre twist Ukraine has sued Australia over tobacco limitations, led by a man named Taras Kachka, the head of a Ukrainian affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, America’s largest trade group.
As the Times stated, “From Ukraine to Uruguay, Moldova to the Philippines, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its foreign affiliates have become the hammer for the tobacco industry, engaging in a worldwide effort to fight antismoking laws of all kinds, according to interviews with government ministers, lobbyists, lawmakers and public health groups in Asia, Europe, Latin America and the United States.”
At the head of that effort is Donohue, who has created foreign affiliates everywhere to fight the tobacco ban.
Donohue, the Times reports, has personally taken part in lobbying efforts to stop bans on smoking,
Speaking of the Chamber, one expert is clear on what the game is:
“They represent the interests of the tobacco industry,” Dr. Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, the head of the the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, told the New York Times.
“They are putting their feet everywhere where there are stronger regulations coming up.”
The chamber is rife with tobacco executives, Philip Morris has a member on the board and tobacco executives draw up chamber strategies.
The U.S. Chamber told the Times in their best Orwell-speak, “The Chamber regularly reaches out to governments around the world to urge them to avoid measures that discriminate against particular companies or industries, undermine their trademarks or brands, or destroy their intellectual property,” the statement said, adding, “we’ve worked with a broad array of business organizations at home and abroad to defend these principles.
The Times notes that Michael R. Bloomberg and Bill Gates have set up an international fund to fight such suits. In the Times, Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, called the chamber “the tobacco industry’s most formidable front group,” adding, “it pops up everywhere.”
In January, in more Orwell-speak, the U.S. Chamber and Donohue claimed that warning labels makes no difference – a senior vice president at the chamber, Tami Overby, wrote that she was “not aware of any science-based evidence” that larger warning labels “will have any discernible impact on reducing or discouraging tobacco use.”
Tami would have prospered in the 50s, no doubt, when the "Mad Men" era reigned and cigarettes were portrayed as a health benefit.
Not so says a major Harvard study. The 2013 Harvard investigation found that graphic warning labels “play a lifesaving role in highlighting the dangers of smoking and encouraging smokers to quit.”
Don't tell that to Tom Donohue. You might interrupt his efforts to spread tobacco use and inevitably lung cancer far and wide. What a legacy for a 77-year-old, but someone has to do it.
There may still be time to make amends. He professes a strong connection to his roots “As the proud descendant of Irish immigrants, I feel a special connection to the country of my heritage,” he has written.
Maybe as part of that connection he could give up on helping push tobacco products on young Irish.