Smoke and Mirrors Of Tobacco Industry
Tobacco companies knew as early as the 1950s about the deadly hazards of smoking, if not sooner, and chose not to inform the Surgeon General or the public. In 1999, a Minnesota judge ruled that there has been a “conspiracy of silence and suppression of scientific information by tobacco companies.”
He found out that the tobacco industry suppressed numerous studies on the health implications associated with tobacco products, which contributed to the deaths of millions of people. However, stockholders naturally pressure the companies to increase sales. Raise the stock price. Addict more youngsters. In fact, Philip Morris was in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which forces many fund managers to buy the stock—putting more pressure on the company to grow.
It’s bad enough that our government is addicted to tobacco tax revenues. To make matters worse, individual lawmakers receive millions of dollars from the tobacco companies to influence their actions and votes. Our fearless leaders are actually being paid to look the other way while kids are being addicted with powerful additives. Most of these kids will ultimately die from tobacco.
Because of the growing political threats to the tobacco industry, financial contributions to members of Congress from tobacco companies are soaring. In 1980, politicians received a mere $224,950 from tobacco companies. By 1996, donations climbed to $2.76 million. In 1997, more than $4 million of tobacco’s blood money flowed into the hands of lawmakers. About 72 percent of the members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 78 percent of the U.S. Senate accepted tobacco money between 1987 and 1997.
On September 11, 1996, Justin Hoover, age 12 and smoker since he was six, testified before a panel of Senators. He said he was hooked on nicotine by the age of nine and urged the lawmakers to help keep cigarettes away from kids.
“I hope you guys can help my (younger) brother and sister so they don’t start,” said Hoover. He also suggested that stores make cigarettes harder to steal. Stealing cigarettes is the pathway to many teen addictions. Once addicted, many kids steal other items to pay for their tobacco habit.
Despite his testimony and other pleas, those lawmakers who received money from tobacco companies were three times more likely to vote to block spending to help states fight illegal cigarette sales to minors. As a result, Congress fought a proposal requiring photo ID checks on all young tobacco buyers. In 1998, the tobacco industry killed an initiative in Congress to fight teen smoking by shifting the focus to raising taxes. In fact, ex-Senator Howard Baker is a lobbyist for Big Tobacco, despite the fact that his wife was a chain smoker and died of lung cancer.
Of course, tobacco is not just an American problem. About 320 million people smoke in China, including 15-30 million women. In addition, about two-thirds of all men smoke. A survey of Beijing high school students found that 30 percent of girls in their third year had already started smoking, similar to smoking rates among teen girls in the U.S.
Chinese citizens consume about 30 percent of all cigarettes produced in the world. Some Chinese brands are actually advertised as healthy. In Russia, about 50 percent of all people are smokers. Many of these smokers will die from their habits and pay good money along the way. In France, 60,000 people die each year of smoking-related diseases.
So, are smokers suckers or are they pawns in a greedy game of global economics and addiction?