Jobs @ MG
Posted Online on Sunday 4,
September 2005 00:50 IST
Tobacco Corporations Trap Millions into Death
By Corey Habbas
Milli Gazette (online edition);
September 4, 2005
Has tobacco use become a legal form of corporation-assisted suicide? According to the World Health Organization (WHO) tobacco causes almost 5 million deaths a year. In twenty years, that figure is expected to double and 70% of tobacco-related deaths will occur in developing countries. Although this unhealthy habit is slowly decreasing in the United States and Western Europe, smoking is on the rise in the developing world. People in poorer nations are being lured with corporate tricks into increasing their tobacco consumption so that the tobacco industry can maintain and expand their profit margins at the expense of others.
The global medical community has recognized tobacco dependency as a disease since 1993. How is it possible for tobacco corporations to sell a disease known to kill millions per year? What tools do corporations use to turn the average person away from their own well-being and logic- and even worse- against the will of Allah (swta)?
The answer rests in a combination of tried and tested measures that would make most of us swoon in disbelief; advertising to the youngest possible demographic, engaging in illegal smuggling schemes, money laundering, cavorting with criminal organizations and the list goes on.
The Spiritual Fight Against Big Tobacco
|Countries with a major Muslim population (more than 15% of the total population) who have ratified the FCTC
For decades, big tobacco corporations have been listening to the heartbeat of the Muslim world in attempt to find strategies that could help capture an untapped market of new addicts. The evidence resides in numerous company e-mails, memos and correspondence, now accessible because of the lawsuits against tobacco industry giants that served to push confidential and proprietary documents into the public light.
Some documents contain information on tobacco industry surveillance against public health organizers. These documents attempt to defame the anti-tobacco movement by inadvertently stating that public health organizations do not really care about health issues, but are motivating by political agendas instead. For example, if a woman identifies with the anti-tobacco movement, she is called a feminist. If a Muslim identifies with the anti-tobacco movement, he or she is called a fundamentalist, and the negative euphemisms appear to be never-ending. They include “Marxist”, “communist”, “qasi-terrorist”, “extremist”, etc.
In one document, tobacco industry insider, Peter Berger, who attended the World Conference on Smoking and Health, writes his assessment of a lecture entitled, “Smoking and Religion”. With an aura of cultural arrogance and ignorance, Berger states, “I know . . . that abstinence from smoking is part of the lifestyle urged on their members by fundamentalist Muslim groups . . .”. Berger continues, “It follows, therefore, . . .that the anti-smoking cause could have considerable appeal to the Muslim ‘masses’ – or more precisely, to fundamentalist Muslim groups”. Berger’s first error is his presumption that the “masses”, as he puts it, of Muslims are “fundamentalist”. His second error comes from his audacity to even lasso that label around any given set of people. Unfortunately, when people show an interest in protecting themselves, the tobacco industry cages them with labels and accuses them of having a political agenda against free-markets. However, Berger’s report concludes correctly that religion is a formidable foe against tobacco industry interests.
In 1997, an internal fax sent by, then vice president at Philip Morris (now called Altria Group), Mark Friedman, expresses dismay at the fatwa issued by Sheikh Nasr Farid Wassel of Egypt, in which he prohibited all forms of smoking for Muslims around the world. In the fax, Friedman states, “As we have discussed, . . . they [religious rulings] may encourage the introduction of . . . anti-smoking legislation in predominantly Moslem countries. They also may have an effect on the efficacy of voluntary anti-smoking initiatives in these countries”.
In the past decade, Anti-smoking fatwas were catalysts for public health education and inspired WHO to produce a 38 page brochure in which ten highly esteemed
Muslim scholars denounced tobacco use. In addition, more than 80,000 posters communicating the Islamic perspective on tobacco abuse were circulated, posted in mosques, hospitals and other public places in Egypt.
Despite best efforts, Egypt’s tobacco consumption continues to rise at a rate of 8% per year, using more tobacco than any other country in the Middle East. In 2003, the country consumed 61.8 billion cigarettes. There is still a prevailing lack of awareness about the true health dangers associated with tobacco use. Unless anti-tobacco efforts are coordinated, continuous, and have as much financial backing as the tobacco industry itself, the public will always be on the losing team.
Conflicting fatwas also have not helped the public resist the “death stick”. With this easy rationalization, the smoker can continue his or her addiction with minimal guilt if he relies on a fatwa that considers smoking to be makruh (reprehensible).
However, as Member of the Fatwa Committee at Al-Azhar, Dr Zakaria al-Birry, states in an article available on the
internet, “Now that medical specialists have settled the matter, the religious ruling on smoking ranges from haram to reprehensible, bordering on haram for those who start smoking”. Most Muslim scholars are unanimous in their condemnation of tobacco use today.
Deliberately engaging in activities that do the body damage is against Islam and disrespects Allah’s gift of life to us. In the holy Qur’an, Allah
(swta) instructs us against harming ourselves in saying, “And cast not yourselves to ruin with your own hands” (2:195), and “. . . kill not yourselves” (4:29). If you smoke, then it’s time to stop paying for your own death.
The doors that have been closed on the cigarette industry in the developed world, are still relatively weak in the developing world despite the hard work of WHO and other non-governmental organizations. The weakness in many cases, should not be seen as intrinsic, but a result of external weakening due to a blatant disregard for the autonomous wishes of other countries. In the 1980’s, the tobacco industry was successful in its partnership with the US government in forcing Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan to rescind ad bans under the threat of trade retaliation.
Tobacco corporations are simply more powerful. In 1999 the cumulative marketing budget for the tobacco industry was $8.2 billion, and that figure continues to rise. Between 1998 and 2001, the major tobacco companies increased their marketing budgets by 65%. The three largest multinational tobacco companies, Philip Morris
(Altria Group), Japan Tobacco (who purchased RJ Reynolds) and British American Tobacco, have a combined revenue that exceeds the gross national product of 21 countries combined. They lease or own facilities in over 40 countries.
With ample power, tobacco corporations use methods abroad that most would consider criminal. They subvert the legal system, and operate with a tacit understanding that smuggling is a viable corporate strategy for penetrating new markets. In a report entitled “BAT and Cigarette Smuggling in Asia” published in Tobacco Control (2004) experts estimate that up to 9% of global cigarette consumption is from contraband.
Documents filed in lawsuits against the tobacco industry suggest that tobacco giants targeted both Iran and Iraq as the two most promising markets in the Middle East, even though both countries were closed markets. Iran and Iraq enforced a ban on imports to protect internal monopolies, in addition to U.S. imposed sanctions against Iraq. Yet, the potential profits were too staggering to walk away from.
When tobacco industry players (RJR, BAT, and Philip Morris) couldn’t enter the market legally, they shifted their paradigm to smuggling. The paradigm of their strategy is simple: (1) Weaken the host country’s monopoly by flooding the market with contraband. This causes prices to fall, reducing profits for the government-run industry and increases consumption. (2) Next, persuade the government to reverse the tobacco ban and open up the market. (3) Lastly, control the market legally by converting contraband operations to legal operations.
International investigation efforts have lead to the discovery of a convoluted trail by which international tax collection efforts have been subverted. The primarily
U.S.-based tobacco corporations shuttled goods from country to country with the help of organized criminals and money laundering schemes, all the while avoiding tax payments to the European community. International investigators traced the trail that RJR used to illegally capture the Iraqi tobacco market. In order, from start to finish, the tobacco route went through Puerto Rico, Spain, Cypress, Lebanon, Turkey and finally into Iraq.
As early as 1987, a BAT internal memo states, “If there are import opportunities in Iraq, these should be taken up. If there are import opportunities in Iran these should be taken up. Jordan – opportunities for legal imports to be fully investigated before we seek transit opportunities.” The term “transit” is BAT’s euphemism for contraband.
Despite the nice euphemisms, the European Union found it difficult to look the other way. After U.S. courts had repeatedly dismissed lawsuit after lawsuit, EU litigation against RJR, BAT and Philip Morris has been revitalized, according to a news brief in Tobacco Reporter (May 5, 2005). If U.S. courts keep dismissing the lawsuits it will re-affirm that, indeed, when it comes to corporate profit, the word “illegal” doesn’t exist.
Marketing departments within tobacco companies aim to create the fantasy of a Western Lifestyle which translates to success and pleasure. Youth living in other countries have been manipulated into associating U.S. brand cigarettes with glamour. Smoking brand name cigarettes provides a link to the lifestyle that they want.
Tobacco companies spend millions sponsoring music concerts and parties where they employ attractive youth to hand out free cigarettes.
Children are of great importance to tobacco companies. Ninety percent of the adults who smoke worldwide had their first cigarette before the age of 18. Tobacco companies need to replace their dead customers with live ones and the younger they can get them, the more likely they can keep them addicted.
An internal document from Phillip Moris released during trial acknowledges the powerful force of tobacco addiction. “Smoking a cigarette for the beginner is a symbolic act. I am no longer my mother’s child, I’m tough, I’m an adventurer…As the force from the psychological symbolism subsides the pharmacological effect takes over to sustain the habit”.
Aggressive advertising and product availability are two of the most important components in addicting children 18 years old and under. This is why countries have resorted to advertising bans for tobacco products.
Countries like Malaysia have banns against tobacco advertising but companies circumvent them. Mary
Assunta, Consumers Association of Penang Malaysia states in a report published in Tobacco Control, “In 2000 despite a supposed
ban on tobacco advertising BAT and Japan tobacco were two of the three top advertisers”.
International movies, sports broadcasts and Internet advertising are other ways used by the industry to undermine tobacco advertising bans. To make tobacco even more accessible to children and to the poor in developing nations, cigarettes are sold individually. By selling cigarettes this way, corporations can get away with dishonoring warning label requirements that are typically required on packs.
Power and Accountability
Accountability needs to rest with the multinational companies who take advantage of poorer nations by behaving dishonestly. In turn, developing countries need to build up the infrastructure to defend themselves against the abuse.
Individual countries fighting alone against tobacco won’t cure the epidemic. This is why WHO endorsed the Framework Convention Alliance for Tobacco Control
(FCTC) a treaty that, in February 2005, became international law. As of July 2005, 74 countries have ratified the treaty. Only 40 countries needed to ratify the treaty in order for it to become international law. By ratifying the treaty, countries commit to abide by the laws defined by it. China and the United States, the two top producers of tobacco, have failed to ratify the
The FCTC establishes requirements that countries must follow in order to preserve public health against harm caused by using tobacco. It is still too early to tell what impact the FCTC will have on tobacco related deaths, but the treaty is a step in the right direction. Only when countries unite for a common good against the tobacco industry, will people be free from the tobacco trap.
The author is a member of the Committee of Concerned
Journalists. She may be
reached at email@example.com
Regarding the 9/4 article, "Tobacco Corporations Trap Millions into Death," tobacco use is far from a, "legal form of corporation-assisted suicide." The tobacco growers, manufacturers, distributors and sellers are all guilty of the wholesale
murder of 5,000,000 tobacco addicts around the world, every year. Further, toxic tobacco smoke kills hundreds of thousands of
innocent people each year; those were exposed to the witch's brew of carcinogens
and poisons in tobacco smoke.
And tobacco a "legal" product? Really? Since when did it become legal to poison people, no matter how slowly you do it? The tobacco people should be brought before a
Nurnburg-style commission and charged with the murder of millions, which they have knowingly wrought.
¯ Dave Johnson, Texas <firstname.lastname@example.org> 9 Sep 2005
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