As a committed anti-smoker with the slight disadvantage of a thirty-a-day habit, I have a great many issues with cigarettes. My main one, until recently, was this: the tobacco industry is run by a small group of incredibly rich, death-dealing businessmen who have actively plotted to keep smokers addicted to their product for decades. This plotting involved suppression of information, dissemination of disinformation and the abuse of political influence. It is also, incidentally, why you’ve seen the rise of Light and Mild cigarettes of late – so smokers can kid themselves that they’re being less unhealthy or are weaning themselves off the addiction. They aren’t.
In recent years, the government has taxed the blood out of smokers because they represent a significant drain on the economy through health implications and associated costs, and yet tobacco subsidies are still paid to farmers in Europe and the USA who produce the crop. These subsidies will continue to be paid until 2014, when they will finally be phased out.
Meanwhile, the UK’s Tobacco Manufacturer’s Association claims that tobacco growing is a key economic element in many developing countries in Africa and South America, as if that was a good thing. It is also a very profitable crop in China, India and Indonesia, where the uptake of smoking continues to grow.
British American Tobacco, the world’s second largest tobacco group by revenue, reported net profits of £2.88 billion in 2010. Tax revenue from cigarettes for the period 2010/11 was £11.1bn. That’s right, governmental taxation revenue from cigarette sales is almost four times the profit made by the manufacturers – our government is actually profiting from dealing in death. Eighty thousand deaths in the UK are attributed to smoking every year, incidentally, but that isn’t what I’m writing about here.
Everyone knows all the health reasons for not smoking and if, like me, you’re a smoker then you probably tell yourself (and anybody who’ll listen) that there’s no proof that it’s harmful and that non-smokers get cancer too. I won’t bother arguing the point because you’re lying to yourself and you know you are. Moreover, I don’t really care what people choose to do to their own bodies and, anyway, you’d probably tell me that it was your right, because everybody knows their rights these days.
No, what’s driven me to write this piece is the other information that I came across whilst doing some research. I was interested in how much land is given over to tobacco as a crop in a world where people are still dying of starvation every day and it turns out that it’s really quite a lot. Since tobacco commands a higher price than corn or maize, it is more profitable to kill people with a poisonous product than it is to feed them. Tobacco crops are farmed in over one hundred countries and its cultivation results in large-scale environmental damage from massive pesticide use and deforestation (both because land is required to grow the crop and because wood is burned in the curing process). The consequences of this deforestation are soil erosion, falling soil fertility, reduced crop yields and drought (which is being experienced globally with increasing frequency and devastating effect).
Moreover, child labour is used extensively in tobacco cultivation and harvesting, which results in missed education for children and their suffering frequent sickness from exposure to pesticides and acute nicotine poisoning. [Tobacco is a chemical-intensive crop which requires many more applications of insect-killers, weed-killers, plant growth regulators and other pesticides than regular agricultural crops.] Pesticide exposure can cause brain damage and cancer whilst Green Tobacco Sickness (as nicotine poisoning from contact with the leaves of mature tobacco plants is known) causes nausea, vomiting, headache, diarrhoea, muscle weakness and dizziness. In infancy and adolescence, exposure to high levels of nicotine produces long-lasting changes in brain structure and function, as well as adverse neurobehavioral effects. Nicotine is a lethal poison – it has itself been used as a pesticide for centuries – which is, naturally, why we use it for pleasure. For other uses of poisons for dubious pleasure, see alcohol.
So this is my new motivation for quitting: I used to worry about money and health but the moral implications put a whole new perspective on the subject for me – it isn’t just a cigarette, smoking is showing tacit support for an international cabal which is responsible for environmental destruction, hunger and child abuse. Yes it is. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
[This article contains data gleaned from the BBC, the WHO (not the band), the European Public Health Alliance, ASH, the ECLT Foundation, the WFPHA and Human Rights Watch]