Getting the poor addicted to tobacco

china-tobaccoIf you walk around any western city, you will notice fewer people smoking on street-corners. The increasing number of lawsuits, combined with heavy regulation of the marketing and sales of tobacco is working. Even so, the number of people of people dying from smoking related illnesses is expected to explode in the years to come.

Most of the new smoking-related deaths will occur in the third world where poor regulation and corruption provide opportunities for the tobacco industry. While countries like Malawi in Africa are economically dependent the production of tobacco, few there can afford to smoke. In Kenya, which is more developed, the situation is different. Many Kenyans smoke, and health authorities are responding. However, there have been allegations of corruption with the tobacco industry offering members of parliament luxury holidays.

In Indonesia the situation has been even worse with one in five children starting to smoke before the age of 10. The populous nation is one of few that have not signed the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which seeks to regulate tobacco sales and marketing. There have been aggressive marketing strategies in Indonesia with dolled-up women roaming the streets offering cigarettes to passers-by. Big money from tobacco has corrupted Indonesian politics.

The tobacco industry is continuously searching for ways of expanding their business, and that means getting more people hooked on tobacco. The companies seek out poorer countries which do not have proper legal frameworks in order to market their products to the rising middle classes.

If you cannot yet afford to smoke yourself, the tobacco industry offers another form of dependency. Our western tobacco multinationals pay starvation prices to the local tobacco farmers in the poorest countries at the same time as they lend them money to pay for poisonousness pesticides. As a result, the farmers are left in debt, and live in economic bondage to the tobacco companies. They are unable to change their crops to other plants.

Six big companies control 80 % of the tobacco market, and surprisingly the shareholders have often been our own western pension funds. In order to pay for our income in old age pension funds are forced to maximize profits, and what could be more profitable than tobacco?  In the case of China Tobacco, the world’s largest tobacco company even generates huge profits for the Chinese state.

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