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Professor Campaigns to Keep U.S. Cigarettes Out of Thailand

September 10, 1990

AMHERST, Mass. (AP) _ You can’t buy American cigarettes in Thailand, at least not legally. That has a lot to do with Ted Chen.

The University of Massachusetts public health professor has worked to prevent the U.S. tobacco industry from breaking into the Thai market. Chen blasts efforts to promote American tobacco in Asia as the ″new opium wars.″

″I feel strongly about the health effects of cigarette smoking and I feel that if we just stop 1 percent of the increase, that would mean millions of people’s lives are saved,″ said Chen, who emigrated from Taiwan 26 years ago.

Thailand’s ban on American cigarettes has been the focus of a two-year battle between trade and tobacco industry officials and public health groups.

U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills has threatened that unless Thailand relaxes its ban by November, Thai imports will be banned in an amount equal to the cigarettes that might have been sold - an estimated $166 million a year.

″On the one hand the United States is the champion of world health for many years. ... On the other hand, now you’re getting this image of becoming the major pusher or the major dealer of tobacco. It’s really selling out the image of America,″ said Chen, executive secretary for the Asian Pacific Association for Control of Tobacco, which he founded.

U.S. trade officials say they are merely trying to break a Thai monopoly on cigarettes.

″We seek and try to root out trade barriers wherever we find them,″ said Timothy O’Leary, a spokesman for Hills. ″I feel that the opponents of what we’re doing have their hearts in the right place, but their energies are misdirected. We feel that we’re doing what the law says we need to do.″

In his fight against tobacco, Chen has written papers and testified before Congress. He likens the dispute to the 19th-century opium wars, in which Western powers forced China to buy opium so they could pay for Chinese tea and silks.

″Ted Chen, of course, has been a marvelous leader because he really has a foot in both worlds. He’s both an American leader and an Asian leader,″ said Mike Pertschuk, co-director of the Washington-based Advocacy Institute, one of the health organizations opposing the cigarette exports.

John Dollisson, spokesman for the U.S. Cigarette Exporters Association in New York, said Chen and others ″have been hoodwinked into bringing in the health issue″ when the real issue is trade.

″The fact is they’re (Thais) going to smoke and whether they smoke our product or whether they’re going to smoke their product, they’re going to smoke,″ he said.

Chen and his allies counter that Thai smoking rates - about 49 percent of males and 4 percent of females - are likely to increase once U.S. advertisers get into the marketplace. Taiwan, which dropped its strict tariffs in 1987, reported a 4 percent increase in 1988, he said.

Cigarette advertising is banned in Thailand, but Chen said he expects that would fall once the trade barrier is hurdled. Dollisson maintained advertising merely promotes brands and has no effect on overall smoking rates.

Rep. Chester Atkins, D-Mass., is co-sponsoring a bill that would ban the government from imposing trade restrictions to open new cigarette markets.

″Our position is that there are more worthy products that the U.S. government can support and that it’s time to dissolve the 200-year marriage between the tobacco industry and the American government,″ said Atkins aide Jim Kessler.

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