The Tobacco Industry in the McSpotlight
Tobacco is a plant which grows in a wide range of soil and climate conditions. Its non edible leaf is dried and used to produce cigarettes, pipe tobacco, cigars, chewing tobacco and snuff. According to the World Health Organisations, tobacco kills more than two and a half million people prematurely every year. The industry that sells these products has been well aware of the dangers for decades but continues to put their own profits before peoples health.
The six American cigarette companies alone, annually spend more than $4 billion for advertising. Successfully selling poison that causes disease and death requires all of the tricks of big business; aggressive advertising, legal action to silence critics, donations to ensure the support of politicians and manipulating scientific evidence to confuse consumers.
Tobacco contains over 4,000 different gases, particles and compounds including tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide. Tobacco smoke "tar" is composed of several thousand chemicals that can damage lung tissue and cause several diseases. Some of these chemicals include: acids, alcohol's, aldehydes, ketones, aromatic hydrocarbons and corrosive gases such as cyanide and nitrogen oxide.
The average age for first use of tobacco is 12 years. Although smoking continues to drop among all major age, race and sex groups, teenage smoking has not declined. In fact, the smoking rate for teenage girls has risen over the past few years. This trend is perhaps due to the increasing number of advertising campaigns directed towards the young.
The risk of developing lung cancer is 10 times greater for smokers than for non smokers. Those who smoke 2 or more packs of cigarettes a day are 15 to 25 times more likely to die of lung cancer than non smokers. This year, more than 450,000 Americans will die prematurely of diseases linked to smoking. That's as many Americans as have been killed in all the wars fought in this century and more than the combined annual death tolls from alcohol, illegal drugs, traffic accidents, suicide and homicide.
Smoking causes about 30% of all cancers, including cancer of the lungs, mouth, pharynx, oesophagus, bladder and pancreas. It is also a major cause of heart disease, emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Pregnant women who smoke have higher rates of miscarriage, still birth, premature birth and complications of pregnancy. More of their babies die soon after birth than the new borne of non-smoking mothers.
In 1997 massive curbs were put on US cigarette makers who agreed to pay $368 billion (£222bn) over the next 25 years to protect them indefinitely from all big anti-smoking lawsuits. They also accepted unconditional regulations from the Food and Drugs administration, opening the way for the agency to reduce, or ban, nicotine in cigarettes sold in the US.
But tobacco manufacturers also won big concessions. Although individuals will still be allowed to bring smoking-related lawsuits against the industry, their ability to win punitive damages will be severely curtailed - so excluding the possibility of potentially ruinous awards. [FT 22.6.97 Richard Tomkins]