Did banning clove cigarettes violate trade laws?

That’s what Indonesia is arguing:  Indonesia says the United States is abusing health regulations to shut out clove cigarettes, known as kretek and very popular in the southeast Asian country, while allowing U.S. manufacturers to continue to market menthol cigarettes. U.S. officials say that flavoured tobaccos risk attracting young people to smoking, and that the ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
AMAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images
AMAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images
AMAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images

That's what Indonesia is arguing

Indonesia says the United States is abusing health regulations to shut out clove cigarettes, known as kretek and very popular in the southeast Asian country, while allowing U.S. manufacturers to continue to market menthol cigarettes.

U.S. officials say that flavoured tobaccos risk attracting young people to smoking, and that the ban applies to clove cigarettes from all countries and so is not discriminatory.

That’s what Indonesia is arguing

Indonesia says the United States is abusing health regulations to shut out clove cigarettes, known as kretek and very popular in the southeast Asian country, while allowing U.S. manufacturers to continue to market menthol cigarettes.

U.S. officials say that flavoured tobaccos risk attracting young people to smoking, and that the ban applies to clove cigarettes from all countries and so is not discriminatory.

A meeting of the WTO’s dispute settlement body agreed to set up a panel to rule on the dispute, the sources said.

I’m not sure about the trade rules, but the clove ban does seem somewhat inconsequential. Cloves made up less than .01 of the cigarettes smoked in the U.S. in 2008, so arguing that they’re a uniquely dangerous gateway for young smokers seems like a tough case to make. On the other hand, with the possible exception of our nation’s MFA programs and the staff of Reason magazine, there hasn’t been a whole lot of backlash.  Menthols, meanwhile, accounted for 28 percent of U.S. consumption, so banning them would presumably have been a much tougher political move domestically. 

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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