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Tobacco and smoking have a number of negative effects:
- Tobacco smoking kills
- Tobacco exacerbates poverty
- Tobacco contributes to world hunger by diverting prime land away from food production
- Tobacco production damages the environment
- Tobacco reduces economic productivity
- While the Tobacco industry may employ people, this can be considered an example of
wasted labor, capital and resources.
The World Health Organization has noted that policy measures such as complete bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and its sponsorship do decrease tobacco use. However, the tobacco industry uses its enormous resources to derail or weaken laws and agreements in various countries and regions.
These issues are introduced below.
On this page:
- Tobacco Smoking kills
- Tobacco Exacerbates Poverty
- Tobacco contributes to world hunger, diverting prime land from food production
- Tobacco production damages the environment
- Tobacco Reduces Economic Productivity
- The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control
- Tobacco Industry Hitting Back
- Wasted wealth, resources and labor
- Electronic cigarettes
- Free choice?
- More information
Tobacco Smoking kills
The world’s premier health organization, the World Health Organization (WHO) is quite blunt about the impacts of tobacco and smoking:
- Tobacco smoking is the second major cause of death in the world.
- An estimated 1.3 billion people smoke
- 84% of all smokers live in developing and transitional economy countries
- Tobacco is the fourth most common risk factor for disease worldwide.
- Second-hand smoke is also a very serious problem:
- Second-hand smoke causes 600,000 premature deaths per year.
- Of the over 4000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, at least 250 are known to be harmful and more than 50 are known to cause cancer.
- About 40% of all children are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke at home.
- 31% of the deaths attributable to second-hand smoke occur in children.
- 10% of the economic costs related to tobacco use are attributable to second-hand smoke.
- Tobacco companies spend tens of billions of dollars each year on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. One third of youth experimentation with tobacco is attributed to this spending
- Why is tobacco a public health priority?2, WHO, December 1, 2004
- FAQ on the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and the context in which it was negotiated3, WHO, September 20, 2004
Tobacco Exacerbates Poverty
It is worth citing the WHO again for a summary of how tobacco exacerbates poverty:
John Madeley also notes in his book, Big Business Poor People (Zed Books, 1999), that heavy advertising of tobacco by Transnational Corporations (TNCs) can
convince the poor to smoke more, and to use money they might have spent on food or health care, to buy cigarettes instead.
Tobacco contributes to world hunger, diverting prime land from food production
Smoking also contributes to world hunger as the tobacco industry diverts huge amounts of land from producing food to producing tobacco as John Madely also notes:
Tobacco production damages the environment
Madeley also describes in detail other impacts on land from tobacco use:
- The land that has been destroyed or degraded to grow tobacco has affects on nearby farms. As forests, for example, are cleared to make way for tobacco plantations, then the soil protection it provides is lost and is more likely to be washed away in heavy rains. This can lead to soil degradation and failing yields.
- A lot of wood is also needed to cure tobacco leaves.
- Tobacco uses up more water, and has more pesticides applied to it, further affecting water supplies. These water supplies are further depleted by the tobacco industry recommending the planting of quick growing, but water-thirsty eucalyptus trees.
- Child labor is often needed in tobacco farms.
For more detail, refer to Big Business Poor Peoples; The Impact of Transnational Corporations on the World’s Poor, by John Madeley, (Zed Books, 1999) ch. 4.
Tobacco Reduces Economic Productivity
Summarizing from the WHO again:
A report by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids11 says that from a socioeconomic and environmental perspective, there is little benefit in tobacco growing12, and that
While a few large-scale tobacco growers have prospered, the vast majority of tobacco growers in the Global South barely eke out a living toiling for the companies. Furthermore,
the cigarette companies continue to downplay or ignore the many serious economic and environmental costs associated with tobacco cultivation, such as chronic indebtedness among tobacco farmers (usually to the companies themselves), serious environmental destruction caused by tobacco farming, and pesticide-related health problems for farmers and their families.
The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control
Amongst other things, the treaty requires countries to
- Impose restrictions on tobacco advertising, sponsorship and promotion;
- Establish new packaging and labeling of tobacco products (e.g. ban misleading descriptions such as
- Establish clean indoor air controls; and
- Strengthen legislation to clamp down on tobacco smuggling.
Treaty adopted despite heavy lobbying by big tobacco
This treaty was adopted
despite a sustained campaign by the tobacco lobby via certain governments to dilute it—particularly the United States, Germany and Japan, as the British Medical Journal (BMJ) reported (
Tobacco Lobby Threatens to Derail Global Antismoking Treaty, February 12, 2005, Volume 330, p. 325.)
pressure from the industry has not let up … the United States proposed a clear reference to global trade rules potentially allowing companies and governments to attack the legally binding health treaty under trade laws,
even though the … treaty gives governments the right to prioritize health over trade issues.
As the BMJ also noted,
poor countries are now more vulnerable to the powerful tobacco industry and need support in implementing tough anti-tobacco measures.
In recent years, in wealthy countries, attempts have been made to introduce smoke-free legislation. In California for example, smoke-free laws were introduced in July 1998. As the Californian Medical Association’s president, Dr. Robert Hertza commented,
California’s lung cancer rates have fallen six times faster than in US states without smoke-free laws. (
Smoke-free workplaces would hit tobacco profits, BMJ, Vol. 330, p.325) This illustrates the potential of treaties such as this global tobacco treaty to save lives of millions.
MPOWERing countries with effective policies
Advertising bans work; self-regulation does not
Tobacco taxes; one of the most effective measures to reduce smoking
Progress with more countries adopting anti-tobacco measures
Tobacco Industry Hitting Back
The tobacco companies have tried various ways to minimize damage impact to their sales and reputation. They have sought to expand markets in other areas, especially the developing world as they find the industrialized nations are increasingly hostile to their industry. Attempts at regulation are fought with various public relations attempts, and corruption.
Expanding into Developing Nations Markets
In recent years, the damage caused to a person’s health by tobacco consumption has been confirmed, attracted particular scrutiny at tobacco firms because they knew this for years, but attempted to hide their research.
Some countries, such as the US have had the resources and political will to tackle the large tobacco corporations. However, combined with the resulting smaller and tougher markets in the rich countries, multinational tobacco firms have intensified their efforts in other regions of world such as Asia, to continue growing and selling cigarettes, as well as expanding advertising (to create demand, not meet). And they have been successful, too. 84% of the estimated 1.3 billion smokers live in developing and transitional economy countries as the WHO has noted.
Targeting Children, Teenagers and Women
Public Relations and WHO-Discrediting Campaigns
The tobacco industry has gone to extraordinary levels to discredit the World Health Organisation and others that are fighting tobacco issues29, a WHO report charges.
A Committee of Experts had been set up in October 1999 to
inquire into the nature and extent of undue influence which the tobacco industry had exercised over UN organisations.
This Committee produced the report that
found that the tobacco industry regarded the World Health Organization as one of their leading enemies, and that the industry had a planned strategy to They added that the tobacco industry documents show that they carried out their plan by:
contain, neutralise, reorient WHO’s tobacco control initiatives.
- Staging events to divert attention from the public health issues raised by tobacco use;
- Attempting to reduce budgets for the scientific and policy activities carried out by WHO;
- Pitting other UN agencies against WHO;
- Seeking to convince developing countries that WHO’s tobacco control program was a
First Worldagenda carried out at the expense of the developing world;
- Distorting the results of important scientific studies on tobacco;
- Discrediting the WHO as an institution.
PAHO, the Pan American Health Organization (a regional office for the Americas for the WHO) issued a report titled Profits over People31 (17 December 2002). Looking at the Latin American and Caribbean countries and information from Philip Morris and British American Tobacco, the report details how the tobacco companies:
- Were intensely competitive but collaborated in campaigns against common threats to the industry
- Hired scientists throughout the region to misrepresent the science linking secondhand smoke to serious diseases, while cloaking in secrecy any connection of these scientists with the tobacco industry;
youth smoking preventioncampaigns and programs primarily as public relations exercises aimed at deterring meaningful regulation of tobacco marketing;
- Had detailed knowledge of smuggling networks and markets and actively sought to increase their share of the illegal market by structuring marketing campaigns and distribution routes around it; and
- Enjoyed access to key government officials and succeeded in weakening or killing tobacco control legislation in a number of countries.
They also added that
these tactics and strategies are not unique to the Americas region.
Reports such as those mentioned above show that there is a lot of political maneuvering by large tobacco companies to lower prices, to increase sales, etc. In addition, the poor and small farmers are the ones most affected by the impacts of tobacco companies. The hard cash earned from this
foreign investment is offset by the costs in social and public health and the environment. In effect, profits are privatized; costs are socialized.
Wasted wealth, resources and labor
While the tobacco industry no doubt provides jobs for many people around the world, the total negative effects of the industry and of smoking tobacco suggests that this is
wasted wealth and
Talented scientists and business people currently employed by this industry could potentially be working in other areas contributing to society in a more positive way, while agricultural workers could potentially be producing less damaging products, for example.
Note that this does not have to be an authoritarian ban, as free choice is still a treasured value. Instead:
- True costing of tobacco (factoring in health, environment and social costs, as well as additional economic costs that might be externalized) would increase the cost of tobacco products to a higher and more realistic value.
- That could help pay for dealing with the various damages. It may potentially deter those whose
freechoice has been influenced by the numerous public relations, advertising and propaganda of the tobacco industry. (Some countries such as the UK do add taxes onto cigarettes, but largely to only cover health costs.)
- Enormous PR related resources would be freed up for other needs, such as helping the tobacco industry clean up, diversifying into other areas, etc.
- Heavily-burdened health services would additionally free up, thus leading to a potentially
snow-ballingseries of positive effects.
A lot of this is perhaps wishful thinking, as the tobacco industry would lose out a lot, and no industry would like that. Their size, power and thus influence, means that they will (and have) hit back in many ways to dilute effective action.
It is often argued by those who prefer to smoke and not see more and more restrictions put in place that it is their free choice to smoke. Some will add that they do not smoke in front of children, etc and thus sound responsible.
Yet, on the one hand how free a choice is it to decide to smoke? Advertising, peer pressure, modern culture, stress all combine to give reasons for people to smoke.
Furthermore, it may seem like a free choice to only harm oneself when deciding to smoke, but second hand smoking also kills.
And perhaps more remote than that is people half way around the world may be going hungry because land that could have been growing and sustaining local people is now diverted into environmentally damaging and wasteful tobacco production.
If one does not wish to give up smoking because it is considered free choice, how about quitting smoking so others may have a choice?
Below are a list of stories from Inter Press Service as they cover issues around tobacco further:
(Note that listed here are only those hyperlinks to other articles from other web sites or elsewhere on this web site. Other sources such as journal, books and magazines, are mentioned above in the original text. Please also note that links to external sites are beyond my control. They might become unavailable temporarily or permanently since you read this, depending on the policies of those sites, which I cannot unfortunately do anything about.)
- 'Golden Leaf, Barren Harvest; The Costs of Tobacco Farming', Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, November 2001., http://tobaccofreekids.org/campaign/global/FCTCreport1.pdf
- 'An international treaty for tobacco control', World Health Organization, August 12, 2003, http://www.who.int/features/2003/08/en/
- 'WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic, 2013', WHO, pp.26–27, http://www.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/85380/1/9789241505871_eng.pdf
- Sanjoy Majumder, 'Tobacco warning for India’s young', BBC, March 20, 2008, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/7306714.stm
- Julia Gillard, Tobacco’s ugly truth must be uncovered', The Guardian, December 22, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/23/tobaccos-ugly-truth-must-be-uncovered
- Tom Chivers, 'The evidence is clear: plain packaging for cigarettes works. The Government's backdown is sheer cowardice', The Telegraph, July 12, 2013, http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/tomchiversscience/100226150/the-evidence-is-clear-plain-packaging-for-cigar
- 'WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic, 2013', WHO, p.79, http://www.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/85380/1/9789241505871_eng.pdf
- 'Global Effects of Smoking, of Quitting, and of Taxing Tobacco', Prabhat Jha, M.D., D.Phil., and Richard Peto, F.R.S., New Englnd Journal of Medicine 2014; 370:60-68 January 2, 2014, DOI: 10.1056/NEJMra1308383, http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMra1308383
- 'One third of world’s population benefits from effective tobacco control measure', WHO, July 10, 2013, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2013/ban_tobacco_20130710/en/index.html
- 'Tobacco Industry Strategies to Undermine Tobacco Control Activities at the World Health Organization', WHO, October 2000, http://www.who.int/genevahearings/inquiry.html
- 'WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic, 2013', WHO, p.40, http://www.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/85380/1/9789241505871_eng.pdf
- 'Profits Over People', Pan American Health Organization, 17 December 2002, http://www.paho.org/English/HPP/HPM/TOH/profits_over_people.htm
- 'Big Tobacco’s Attempts to Derail the Global Tobacco Treaty', Corporate Accountability International, October 6, 2005, http://www.stopcorporateabuse.org/files/pdfs/%5BREPORT%5D%20Big_Tobacco's_Attempts_to_Derail_the_Global_Tobac
- Global Issues: “Wasted Wealth, Capital, Labor and Resources”, Last updated: Sunday, September 23, 2001, https://www.globalissues.org/article/242/wasted-wealth-capital-labor-and-resources
- Global Issues: “Mathematics of Wasted Labor—an Example”, Posted: Friday, September 07, 2001, https://www.globalissues.org/article/244/mathematics-of-wasted-labor-an-example
- Marisa de Andrade, Gerard Hastings, and Kathryn Angus, 'Promotion of electronic cigarettes: tobacco marketing reinvented?', BMJ 2013;347:f7473, http://www.bmj.com/content/347/bmj.f7473
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