What's New - January 15, 1999

Tobacco in the Third World

Although the hearings and settlements last year regarding "Big Tobacco" might have given us the impression that tobacco executives were cowed, even contrite, they show a different, and much more agressive face when it comes to marketing their products in third-world countries.

It stands to reason. Long, relentless public health awareness campaigns in the U.S., Britain and other western countries have finally shown some results, with the number of smokers dropping steadily at about 1% per year. To make up for this, and to pay the enormous costs of the recent settlements, tobacco companies have had to turn elsewhere for sales. They seem to be successful, sales worldwide are up 2%!

In many impoverished countries, anything western is viewed as hip and cool, blue jeans, ball caps, and cigarettes included. Young people, still poor but with more disposable income than generations before them, are easily seduced and the addictiveness of tobacco has its own draw of course. A spokesman for WorldWatch has said "A street waif in Cairo is as apt to beg for a cigarette" as for money. Aggressive marketing by the tobacco companies is paying off.

In Malaysia, for example, Rothmans brand is reportedly spending $3 million dollars to promote a tour of a rap group very popular with teenage girls. Taboos against women smoking have kept the usage rates low with females, but that also sets women up as the best unconverted market!

In Vietnam, over 70% of adult males smoke and put warnings out everywhere, while at the same time marketing cigarettes by using tactics outlawed in America such as giving out free samples on the street.

There is other fallout from the increase in tobacco use in third-world countries. An obvious corollary to this is the increase in agricultural production of tobacco in these lands; which is linked to loss of land control, leaching of pesticides, loss of wood (used to cure tobacco) as a fuel source for the poor, and other significant problems.

For additional information on this growing problem, see

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