Salesmen of Death—Are You a Customer?
“The guy that smokes has been told all the warnings on earth that it is going to kill you, and I think the same thing. I think it is going to kill you. I think any fool that takes smoke down in his belly is going to suffer. I have never smoked a cigarette in my life. I have made a fortune on it. . . . The only way that we built this country is by selling the rest of the fools in the world tobacco.”—James Sharp, longtime tobacco grower in Kentucky, in Merchants of Death—The American Tobacco Industry, by Larry C. White.
THAT candid remark speaks volumes but leaves several questions unanswered. Why do more than a billion people around the world smoke? What induces them to continue with a habit that is known to be death-dealing? After all, the tobacco story is basically the same as the drug story—supply and demand. If there is no profitable market, then the supply dries up. So why do people smoke?
Addiction is the key word. Once nicotine establishes a foothold in the body, there is a daily need for regular fixes of nicotine. Combined with the addiction is habit. Certain situations, established by habit, trigger the desire for a cigarette. It might be as soon as a person gets up or with the first cup of morning coffee, the after-lunch drink, the pressure and social interchange at work, or in recreation. Dozens of apparently insignificant habits can be the “on” switch for a smoke.
Why Did They Smoke?
Awake! interviewed several ex-smokers to try to understand the motivation behind smoking. For example, there is Ray, in his 50’s, a former quartermaster in the U.S. Navy. He explained: “I was about 9 years old when I first started smoking, but I got serious about it when I was 12. I recall that I was kicked out of the Boy Scouts for smoking.”
Awake!: “What got you interested in smoking?”
Ray: “It was the macho thing to do. You know, it was manly to smoke. I remember that the ads in those days showed firemen and policemen smoking. Then later in the Navy, I had a high-pressure job in navigation, and I felt that smoking helped me ride through the stress.
“I used to smoke about a pack and a half a day [30 cigarettes] and would not start a day without my cigarette. Of course, I inhaled. There’s no point in smoking if you don’t inhale.”
Bill, a professional artist from New York, also in his 50’s, tells a similar story:
“I started as a kid of 13. I wanted to be like the grown-ups. Once I was in its grip, I couldn’t stop. Having a cigarette was like having a friend. In fact, if I was going to bed and realized I had no cigarettes in the house, I would get dressed again and, regardless of the weather, go out and buy a pack for the next day. I was smoking from one to two packs a day. I admit that I was addicted. And I was a heavy drinker at the same time. The two just seemed to go together, especially in the bars where I spent a lot of my time.”
Amy, young and outgoing, started to smoke when she was 12 years old. “It was peer pressure at first. Then, my dad died when I was 15, and the stress of that pushed me further. But as I got older, the ads influenced me, especially that one, ‘You’ve come a long way, baby.’ I was a career girl, studying to be a surgical nurse. I was soon smoking three packs a day. My favorite time to smoke was after dinner and whenever I was on the phone, which was often.” Did she notice any ill effects? “I had morning cough and headaches, and I was no longer physically fit. Just climbing the stairs to my apartment left me breathless. And I was only 19!”
Harley, a former Navy flyer, now in his 60’s, started smoking during the Depression at the age of 5! Why did he do it? “All the kids smoked in Aberdeen, South Dakota, where I came from. If you smoked, you were tough.”
Harley minces no words about why he smoked. “It was pure pleasure for me. I would inhale the smoke deep down into my lungs and hold it there. Then I used to love to puff out smoke rings. I got where I could not live without my cigarette. I started and ended the day with a cigarette. In the Navy, I was smoking two to three packs a day and a box of cigars each month.”
Bill, Ray, Amy, and Harley gave up smoking. So have millions of others—over 43 million in the United States alone. But the tobacco salesmen have not given up. They are targeting new markets all the time.
Are YOU a Target?
With many male smokers giving up smoking in the industrialized nations, plus the loss of customers through natural and smoking-induced death, the tobacco companies have had to look for new markets. In some cases they have changed their advertising strategies in an effort to bolster their sales. Sponsorship of sports events, such as tennis and golf tournaments, is an effective way of giving a supposedly clean image to smoking. Another strategy adjustment is the markets to be targeted. Are you one of their potential customers?
Target number one: Women. A minority of women have smoked for decades, aided and abetted by the example of film actresses such as Gloria Swanson, who back in 1917 was smoking as an 18-year-old. In fact, she got one of her first film roles because, as the director explained: “Your hair, your face, the way you sit, the way you smoke a cigarette . . . You’re exactly what I want.”
In the 1940’s Lauren Bacall, who featured in films with her husband, heavy smoker Humphrey Bogart, also set a glamorous lead in smoking. But the female side of the cigarette market was always lagging way behind the male market. And so were the cancer statistics for women. Now they are catching up fast—in smoking and in lung cancer.
In recent years a new trend in advertising has developed, in part due to the more competitive role of women in society together with the subtle influence of tobacco advertising. What is the message being sent to women? The Philip Morris company, which manufactures a variety of cigarette brands, produces “Virginia Slims,” aimed at the modern woman. Their slogan is the one that attracted Amy: “You’ve come a long way, baby.” The ad portrays a sophisticated, modern woman with a cigarette between her fingers. But some women must be asking themselves now how far they have come. Over the last two years, lung cancer has exceeded breast cancer in the mortality rate for women.
Another cigarette brand offers women a bargain: “5 free per pack!” “50 free per carton!” Some women’s magazines even include coupons for free packs!
Sex is another easy way to make cigarettes seem attractive. One brand invites: “Find More Pleasure.” The message includes a want ad, stating: “WANTED—Tall, dark stranger for long lasting relationship. Good looks, great taste a must. Signed, Eagerly Seeking Smoking Satisfaction.” The cigarette being presented comes “tall” and in dark paper. A subtle connection?
Links with fashion are another hook used for women. One brand is hailed as “A celebration of style and taste by YVES SAINT LAURENT.” Another bait is used for weight-conscious women. The advertisement features a photo of a slim model, and the cigarettes are defined as “Ultra Lights—The lightest style.”
Why are the cigarette manufacturers targeting the women of the world? The World Health Organization gives an obvious clue with its estimate that “more than 50 per cent of men but only five per cent of women smoke in developing countries compared to about 30 per cent of both sexes in the industrialised world.” There is a huge untapped market out there for tobacco profits, regardless of the ultimate price in health that may have to be paid. And the tobacco salesmen are having success. According to The New York Times, the U.S. surgeon general’s report, released in January 1989, stated that ‘children, especially girls, are smoking at younger ages’ and that includes elementary-school children. Another source says that in recent years the number of female teenage smokers in the United States has increased by 40 percent. But women are not the only target for the salesmen of death and disease.
The Racial Target
In his book Merchants of Death—The American Tobacco Industry, Larry C. White states: “Blacks are a good market for the cigarette makers. The National Center for Health Statistics showed that as of 1986, a higher percentage of blacks smoked than whites [in the United States] . . . It’s not surprising that blacks smoke in higher proportions than whites, because they are special targets of cigarette promotion.” Why are they special targets? According to The Wall Street Journal, they are “a group that lags behind the general population in kicking the habit.” Therefore, a black client is often a “loyal” client, ‘until death do us part.’
How do the tobacco companies concentrate on the black population? Author White states: “Cigarettes are heavily advertised in black-oriented magazines such as Ebony, Jet, and Essence. In 1985 cigarette companies spent $3.3 million on advertisements in Ebony alone.” One tobacco company also promotes a yearly fashion show directed to the black women’s market. Free cigarettes are handed out. Another company at one time regularly sponsored a jazz festival and continues to support music festivals popular with blacks. How special a target is the black population? A spokesman for Philip Morris stated: “The black market is very important. It’s a very powerful one.”
But there is an even more important market for the tobacco giants—not just races or groups but whole nations!
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“Having a cigarette was like having a friend”
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SMOKING and Buerger’s Disease
A recent case in Canada, reported by Maclean’s, highlights yet another disease attributed to smoking. Roger Perron started smoking at the age of 13. By the age of 27, he was suffering from Buerger’s disease and had to have one leg amputated below the knee. He was warned that if he continued smoking, the disease could attack again. Maclean’s reports: “But Perron ignored the warning, and in 1983 doctors had to amputate his other leg. After that, Perron . . . finally quit smoking.” Now he is suing a tobacco company for damages.
What is Buerger’s disease? It “occurs most often in men who smoke. The disease is characterized by an inflammatory response in the arteries, veins, and nerves, which leads to a thickening of the blood vessel walls caused by infiltration of white cells. The first symptoms are usually a bluish cast to a toe or finger and a feeling of coldness in the affected limb. Since the nerves are also inflamed, there may be severe pain and constriction of the small blood vessels controlled by them. Overactive sympathetic nerves also may cause the feet to sweat excessively, even though they feel cold. . . . Ischemic ulcers and gangrene are common complications of progressive Buerger’s disease.
“The cause of Buerger’s disease is unknown, but since it occurs mostly in young men who smoke, it is thought to be a reaction to something in cigarettes. The most important treatment is to stop smoking.” (Italics ours.)—The Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons Complete Home Medical Guide.
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SMOKING and Heart Attacks
“Although most people are well aware of the association between cigarette smoking and lung cancer and other pulmonary diseases, many still do not realize that smoking is also a major risk factor in heart attacks. In fact, the . . . Surgeon General’s report on Smoking and Health estimates that 225,000 of the American [U.S.] deaths from cardiovascular disease each year are directly related to smoking—many more than the total number of cancer and pulmonary disease deaths attributed to smoking.
“Smokers often ask whether low-tar, low nicotine cigarettes reduce the cardiovascular risk. The answer appears to be ‘no.’ In fact, some of the filter cigarettes increase the amount of carbon monoxide that is inhaled, making them even worse for the heart than unfiltered brands.” (Italics ours.)—The Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons Complete Home Medical Guide.
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Tobacco advertisements are aiming at women and are winning