The Multinational Monitor

July/August 1987 - VOLUME 8 - NUMBERS 7 & 8


A Deadly Business

The tobacco industry, in an effort to stop the current onslaught of negative publicity, has asked for "an open debate" on the issue of smoking and health, urging people to look at and listen to the facts.

But while calling for objectivity, industry executives have arrogantly and consistently maintained a shield of deniability, professing not to know about the tens of thousands of national and international studies indicting tobacco for its devastating effects on the health of both smokers and nonsmokers. In its attempt to play down and discredit the scientific data, the tobacco industry has shown contempt for the millions of lives that have been lost because of tobacco.

In Death in the West, a gripping British documentary filmed in "Marlboro Country" in 1976, a Philip Morris executive's comments, which callously belittled the cancer-causing properties of tobacco, were juxtaposed with conversations with six cowboys, all long-time smokers who had cancer or emphysema. When Philip Morris Vice President for Science and Technology, Dr. Helmut Wakeham, was asked about the health hazards of cigarettes, he quipped: "Anything can be considered harmful. Applesauce is harmful if you get too much of it."

In a lawsuit after the tragic death of 19-year-old Sean Marsee, a regular userof Copenhagen snuff, U.S. Tobacco offered similar contempt. George Braly, the plaintiff's attorney, asked Dr. Richard Manning, vice president for research and development for U.S. Tobacco - the maker of some of the biggest selling products in the smokeless tobacco industry - what research the company had done "in connection with the safety of snuff used by human beings?" Manning responded: "I don'tknow what you mean by the word `safety' in that context."

Braly attempted to clarify his point: "Has the United States Tobacco Company ever carried out any research to determine whether or not its snuff products are dangerous for human beings to use?" Manning again avoided the issue. "I don't know what you mean by `dangerous' in that concept-or context," he said.

Although the tobacco industry's duplicity may have temporarily obscured the issue, the facts are irrefutable. The damning reports are piled high. Those at risk include smokers, nonsmokers who are in the company - willingly or not - of smokers, and unborn babies. More than 50,000 studies have identified tobacco as a cause of lung cancer, oral cancer, heart disease, chronic bronchitis and emphysema in smokers and users of smokeless tobacco; lung disease and heart disease in passive smokers; and low birth weight in infants whose mothers smoked.

The World Health Organization estimates that tobacco kills nearly 2.5 million people each year. In the United States alone tobacco kills 350,000 every year. It is the largest and most accepted on-going mass slaughter in the world.

Aided and abetted by an acquiescent Congress, the $35 billion U.S. tobacco industry has been able to continue marketing a deadly product with minimal government intervention. Despite almost a century of reports detailing tobacco's dangers, congressional action in the tobacco field has been woefully inadequate. In fact, Congress has consistently kowtowed to the interests of the powerful and wealthy tobacco lobby and has sheltered the tobacco industry from the regulatory agencies. The Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act, the Consumer Product Safety Act, and the Toxic Substances Control Act all ignore tobacco.

The U.S. government's willingness to look the other way as the "tobacco toll" continues to climb cannot be tolerated. Congressional action to ban all cigarette advertising, end all price supports and to launch an aggressive public education campaign is imperative. We can no longer afford the economic and human costs associated with tobacco.

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