After a nine-year legal battle, the Argentine Supreme Court of Justice has dismissed a lawsuit brought by a British American Tobacco (BAT) subsidiary, against the Province of Santa Fe’s trailblazing tobacco control law, which includes a 100 percent ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (TAPS) and an interdict on smoking in public places.
The ruling signals the judiciary’s commitment to prioritising public health over commercial interests, breathing new life into the trend for strong sub-national tobacco control policies in Argentina.
Santa Fe passed the law in 2005, becoming the first sub-national jurisdiction in Latin America to enact a comprehensive smokefree policy, in line with the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) measures to reduce tobacco use.
BAT’s Nobleza Piccardo (NP) contested that the Sante Fe law was unconstitutional claiming that only the federal government could legislate on tobacco control issues. NP also condemned the TAPS ban as unreasonable, excessive and arbitrary, arguing that it undermined economic rights and freedom of expression.
However, the new judgement made on 27 October, dismissed NP´s claims, determining that provinces in Argentina have the right to legislate on any health issue jointly or concurrently with the federal government, in the interests of protecting public health. This reaffirmed provincial jurisdiction to enforce both federal and sub-national tobacco control regulations.
“This Supreme Court ruling demonstrates a commitment to prioritising public health over commercial interest, which should encourage both federal and sub-national governments to tackle Argentina’s next challenges to reduce tobacco use,” said Mirta Molinari, The Union’s Regional Coordinator for Tobacco Control in Latin America. “This is wonderful news for public health in Argentina and Latin America, and for tobacco control globally. It sets the precedent for other strong sub-national tobacco control laws in Argentina.”
But challenges for tobacco control in the country still remain - Argentina is among a handful of nations that have not yet ratified the WHO FCTC. More effective implementation of existing regulations is also needed, expanding smokefree legislation to include open spaces, and closing legal loopholes to block point of sale advertisement, for example.
“This is a significant win for public health,” said Dr Ehsan Latif, Director of The Union’s Department of Tobacco Control. “Persistence has overcome classic tobacco industry tactics to obstruct life-saving policies that threaten their commercial interests. We encourage Argentina now to take the next step and ratify the WHO FCTC.”
The Union has supported tobacco control in Argentina since 2008, at federal and subnational levels, providing technical assistance and legal training to government officials and civil society. With Bloomberg Initiative funding, The Union supported introduction of smokefree legislation in Buenos Aires. A current grant with this city’s government seeks to expand smokefree regulation to ban smoking in children’s playgrounds, and other outdoor public spaces.