Speaker Report for Doctor Welker and Professor Puig

Guest Speakers for October 20 

               This week’s speakers provided insight into corporations by exploring their interactions with law and society. Professor Puig approached the matter from a legal perspective (predominately focusing on litigation) while Doctor Welker employed an anthropological framework. In doing so, both Doctor Welker and Professor Puig have used the tobacco industry as a case study.

               Professor Puig discussed international litigation undertaken by Philip Morris International (PMI). In doing so, he explained that PMI has utilized these suits to “‘chill’, preempt, or harmonize” domestic and international tobacco regulations.  Specifically, Professor Puig discussed the international litigation strategies employed by PMI. PMI and their attorneys have carefully shopped around for ideal forums and plaintiffs to maximize their litigation success. For example, PMI selected a shop owner in Eastern Europe as a plaintiff to defeat tobacco regulations on human rights grounds. Meanwhile, PMI utilized a subsidiary in Hong Kong to challenge Australian domestic tobacco regulation requirements on intellectual property grounds. In doing so, PMI was able to utilize the intellectual property protections created in a trade deal between Australia and Hong Kong. These litigation strategies have led to mixed success on the part of PMI. While PMI has not always emerged victorious in their international litigation, they have (at least in some cases) managed to discourage tobacco regulations.  

               Doctor Welker provided an additional perspective into the actions of large tobacco firms (including PMI’s subsidiary in Indonesia, Sampoerna) by exploring their activity in Indonesia. Doctor Welker focused on the way Indonesian tobacco firms have managed to, quite successfully, combat public health-related opposition to cigarettes. In doing so, she explained the astroturf-style political tactics utilized by large tobacco firms. Doctor Welker showed how tobacco companies utilize a combination of nationalism and (increasingly inapplicable) employment-based arguments. Tobacco companies push a narrative that clove cigarettes are an Indonesian cultural icon and that tobacco production is an important domestic industry that is under assault from Western interventionists.  However, the growth in automation for cigarette production undercuts their employment argument.

               Interestingly, Doctor Welker also discussed the role of gender in Indonesian tobacco culture. The vast majority of cigarette smokers are men in Indonesia. Women who do smoke are often looked down upon as Westernized or are associated with immoral conduct. Conversely, the individuals charged with hand-rolling cigarettes in factories are overwhelmingly women. In addition, cigarette companies hire young and attractive women to sell cigarettes.

               Perhaps the most astonishing component of the lecture was Doctor Welker’s explanation of the enormous scope of tobacco advertising. The Indonesian public, including children, are barraged with tobacco promotions in a variety of formats. These promotions take the form of large signs, video advertisements, sponsored events, scholarships, camps, and social influencers-celebrities hired to both sell cigarettes and promote a positive association with tobacco products.

               The array of tobacco company tactics described above help to explain how Indonesia remains one of the heaviest smoking nations in the world-despite efforts by the global health community to reduce smoking.


               This week’s speakers helped to show the variety of tools utilized by large tobacco firms to combat regulations and promote tobacco usage in the face of increasing scrutiny over public health concerns.   

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