"More than five million people die annually of smoking-related causes, more than from AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined," according to the World Health Organization.

Most Americans are well aware that smoking kills due to strong anti-smoking ad campaigns and laws, but in developing countries, consumers continue to puff away, bringing to light the fact that "tobacco consumption more than doubled in the developing world from 1970 to 2000," according to the United Nations.

Why is this? Maybe we should ask Phillip Morris International.

According to health advocates and officials, "tobacco companies are pushing back against a worldwide rise in anti-smoking laws, using a little-noticed legal strategy to delay or block regulation. The industry is warning countries that their tobacco laws violate an expanding web of trade and investment treaties, raising the prospect of costly, prolonged legal battles," The New York Times reports.

The clever strategy has recently "gained momentum" as wealthier countries' smoking rates have decreased and tobacco companies have continued to have a solid grip on fast-growing markets in developing countries.

"Industry officials say that there are only a few cases of active litigation, and that giving a legal opinion to governments is routine for major players whose interests will be affected.

"But tobacco opponents say the strategy is intimidating low- and middle-income countries from tackling one of the gravest health threats facing them: smoking," The New York Times adds. "They also say the legal tactics are undermining the world's largest global public health treaty, the W.H.O. Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which aims to reduce smoking by encouraging limits on advertising, packaging and sale of tobacco products. More than 170 countries have signed it since it took effect in 2005."

The issues comes at a crucial time as the U.S. wraps up discussions on a major new trade treaty with 11 Pacific Rim countries  that hope to set the standards for international commerce regulations.

While the Administration hopes the treaty raises the bar for public health standards, its emphasis on smoking has concerned the U. S. Chamber of Commerce. It fears that "the inclusion would leave the door open for other products, like soda or sugar, to be heavily regulated in other countries."

"Our goal in this agreement is to protect the legitimate health regulations that treaty countries want to pursue from efforts by tobacco companies to undermine them," Michael Froman, the United States trade representative, told The New York Times in a telephone interview. The language is not yet final, he said."

According to Thomas Bollyky, a trade lawyer and a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, "many developing countries are at a disadvantage in investment cases because they do not have the specialized legal expertise or resources to fight."

"Uruguay has acknowledged that it would have had to drop its tobacco control law and settle with Philip Morris International if the foundation of the departing mayor of New York, Michael R. Bloomberg, had not paid to defend the law. (The company's net revenue last year was $77 billion, substantially more than Uruguay's gross domestic product.) Even developed countries like Canada and New Zealand have backed away from planned tobacco laws in the face of investment treaty claims," Mr. Bollyky explained.

In 2006, Bloomberg "launched a $125 million global initiative to reduce tobacco use in low- and middle-income countries," according to the official BI website. "The Initiative was extended with a new $250 million commitment in 2008. Other funders have also made contributions to the Initiative."  

The Bloomberg Initiative To Reduce Tobacco Use Grants Program awards two grants annually, and "the BI places a priority on countries with the highest prevalence of tobacco usage."

Besides tobacco giants, like Phillip Morris International, intimidation seems to be somewhat of a common theme in other laws concerning Uruguay.

Last week, Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalize both the sale and production of marijuana in an effort to decriminalize the drug trade. "President Mujica and his supporters argue that regulating marijuana consumption and production will remove profits from criminals and allow less money to be spent on soldiers and police, who are ultimately unable to prevent Uruguayan citizens from using the drug."

Drama has since ensued over the legalization of marijuana in Uruguay.

According to RT, President Mujica has accused the head of the UN's International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) of lying and double standards, after an official claimed the country did not consult the anti-drug body before legalizing marijuana.

"INCB chief Raymond Yans has slammed the 'surprising' move, accusing the South American state of legalizing the drug without first discussing it with the UN organization. He has also accused Uruguay of 'pirate attitudes' for knowingly violating the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which the South American country is part of."

Mujica, rejected the criticism on Friday, RT pointed out, saying that he's ready to discuss the law with anyone. He also pointed out that Yans did not say a word about the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington, which also legalized marijuana.

"Does he have different rules: one for Uruguay and other for the world's strong countries?" he asked.