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US and EU Free Trade Agreements and implementation of policies to control tobacco, alcohol, and unhealthy food and drinks: a quasi-experimental analysis

Barlow, Pepita and Allen, Luke N. (2023) US and EU Free Trade Agreements and implementation of policies to control tobacco, alcohol, and unhealthy food and drinks: a quasi-experimental analysis. PLoS medicine, 20 (1). ISSN 1549-1676

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Identification Number: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1004147

Abstract

BACKGROUND: Identifying and tackling the factors that undermine regulation of unhealthy commodities is an essential component of effective noncommunicable disease (NCD) prevention. Unhealthy commodity producers may use rules in US and EU Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) to challenge policies targeting their products. We aimed to test whether there was a statistical relationship between US and EU FTA participation and reduced implementation of WHO-recommended policies.  METHODS AND FINDINGS: We performed a statistical analysis assessing the probability of at least partially implementing 10 tobacco, alcohol, and unhealthy food and drink policies in 127 countries in 2014, 2016, and 2019. We assessed differences in implementation of these policies in countries with and without US/EU FTAs. We used matching to conduct 48 covariate-adjusted quasi-experimental comparisons across 27 matched US/EU FTA members (87 country-years) and performed additional analyses and robustness checks to assess alternative explanations for our results. Out of our 48 tests, 19% (9/48) identified a statistically significant decrease in the predicted probability of at least partially implementing the unhealthy commodity policy in question, while 2% (1/48) showed an increase. However, there was marked heterogeneity across policies. At the level of individual policies, US FTA participation was associated with a 37% reduction (95%CI: -0.51 to -0.22) in the probability of fully implementing graphic tobacco warning policies, and a 53% reduction (95%CI: -0.63 to -0.43) in the probability of at least partially implementing smoke-free place policies. EU FTA participation was associated with a 28% reduction (95%CI: -0.45 to -0.10) in the probability of fully implementing graphic tobacco warning policies, and a 25% reduction (95%CI: -0.47 to -0.03) in the probability of fully implementing restrictions on child marketing of unhealthy food and drinks. There was a positive association with implementing fat limits and bans, but this was not robust. Associations with other outcomes were not significant. The main limitations included residual confounding, limited ability to discern precise mechanisms of influence, and potentially limited generalisability to other FTAs.  CONCLUSIONS: US and EU FTA participation may reduce the probability of implementing WHO-recommended tobacco and child food marketing policies by between a quarter and a half-depending on the FTA and outcome in question. Governments negotiating or participating in US/EU FTAs may need to establish robust health protections and mitigation strategies to achieve their NCD mortality reduction targets.

Item Type: Article
Official URL: https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/
Additional Information: © 2023 The Author(s).
Divisions: Health Policy
Subjects: R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
Date Deposited: 24 Jan 2023 16:48
Last Modified: 08 Apr 2024 19:42
URI: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/id/eprint/118010

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