A Smoking Gun: The Tobacco Industry's Fight to Stay Alive
by Shay McHale | published Nov. 17th, 2016
For years, the behemoth that is the tobacco industry has hung over this country like an aging empire, still clinging to the remnants of its power. In recent times, however, the harm it has caused has contributed to the public's growing resistance.
The industry itself has seen significant decline in recent years, largely due to an increase in the limitations governments are placing on smoking, such as banning it on public transportation or within 15 feet of a public building. Even here at RIT, smoking is mostly constrained to five designated smoking areas.
This fight, however, is not one-sided. Abroad, companies are selling to impoverished people, developing especially in Asia, according to a WHO report. Domestically, the tobacco industry is fighting back against legislature which would hinder it, such as California's Proposition 56, which would cause the biggest single rise in tobacco tax in state history.
These campaigns are headed by the same rhetoric that has helped them fight this kind of rise in taxes for decades, stating that legislation allocates only 13 percent of tax money to helping kids stop smoking, and that the proposition is just a 'tax hike grab," according to their “No on 56” website. What this fails to mention is that, save for five percent to make up for the revenue lost to less smokers, the rest of the spending is all going towards various programs to fight smoking and its effects, from increasing primary care providers to enforcing tobacco laws.
While these tactics are out in the open and providing as much of a fair fight as they dare to, some of their other tactics show a much shadier side of the industry.
One of the most well-known and documented sources for criticism of the industry comes from their alleged marketing to children in the form of selling near schools and advertisements including cartoon mascots like Joe Camel that try to make smoking look "cooler." The big companies have all denied any involvement in trying to market to children and have argued that the advertisements attract adult consumers as well.
Another area that is less illegal but still pulls into question the morality of their marketing campaigns is the relationship smoking has with the military. Soldiers in the armed forces get free cigarettes, providing both a calming agent and a hunger suppressant, which are both very useful in the field. This relationship, however, has proven to be an unhealthy one, as troops who smoke were more likely to report high levels of stress than those who don't, which is the exact opposite of what smoking is supposed to do.
The issue here is not the fact that they are giving out free products to troops, but that they are providing the perfect opportunity to get them hooked while on the job, so that once they leave the forces they have to continue smoking — now at a price. This obvious abuse of a situational problem shows a complete and utter lack of decency that is unsurprisingly devious for an industry who loses most of its customers to death as a result of product use. In fact, it is a more serious killer than the weapons industry. Guns kill, on average, 40–50 thousand people a year, either through suicide or homicide, while smoking kills 6 million on average.
These companies wallow in the misfortunes of people worldwide and will apparently stop at nothing to continue to sell their product, even if it means hurting troops and putting out advertisements obviously aimed at kids. In a world that is changing as fast as this one, there may be no limit to what this industry will do in order to stay afloat, even if it means deceiving consumers about how deadly it truly is.
One of the tactics the industry has taken in order to combat health awareness is by marketing "low tar" products, claiming to significantly decrease the health issues. The Federal Trade Commission looked into this and found the claims that were made about these cigarettes being "healthy" were false. This has led to laws such as one in Australia, where certain states and territories enacted bans that prevent companies from even labeling products as "low tar."
In a fast-changing world, anything can happen. People and trends can change in the blink of an eye, and stars in the public eye can be revealed in one fell swoop to be far more problematic than previously thought. While they would like to think they are above this, as well as above the law, the tobacco industry is affected just like everyone else. In time, this great empire may too crumble to dust if they continue on the maligned path they are taking.