“B.A.T. [British American Tobacco] Uganda 1984 Ltd. does not believe that cigarette smoking is harmful to health.” This statement, made in a letter to the Ministry of Health in Entebbe, Uganda, has raised a furor in Britain amid accusations of questionable business ethics and double standards. Why?
Government health warnings must appear on cigarette packs in Western countries where the smoking habit is now on the decline by 1 percent a year. In developing countries, however, such legal requirements do not usually exist, and where they do, they may go unnoticed if smokers buy their cigarettes singly, rather than in a pack. Sales in those countries are on the increase by 2 percent annually. But that is only part of the problem. High-tar tobacco “that is too dangerous for them [European countries] to smoke themselves” is being exported from Europe to Africa and other developing countries, claims Dr. Roberto Masironi, head of the Tobacco or Health program of WHO (World Health Organization).
Aggressive marketing is also promoting new, stronger, and cheaper brands. In Zimbabwe, where half the population is under 16 years of age and there is no age limit for tobacco purchase, it is feared that young children will become addicted to the smoking habit. Dr. Timothy Stamps, Zimbabwe’s health minister, has also expressed concern about the “subtle messages aimed at young women” to get them hooked on nicotine, which has been called the “fastest-acting drug in the Western world.” Addressing a WHO conference, Britain’s chief medical officer said: “I fail to understand how anyone can bring themselves to continue to promote this deadly habit.”
Against such pressures, why does the campaign to increase sales not falter? There are two basic reasons. First, if it did, thousands of jobs in Europe’s tobacco industry would be lost. Second, there are the economies of the countries where the tobacco is sold. Kenya, for example, gains 5 percent of its total government revenue from excise and profit taxes on tobacco sales. Also contributing to the growth in tobacco sales is the financial support given to sports activities by the tobacco firms.
Meantime, the health problems of the Western world are now stalking African countries. As they continue to battle against malaria and a host of endemic diseases, they find their limited resources stretched to embrace smoking-related illnesses.
Asia is the next market to which tobacco companies are now turning their eyes. There, cigarette sales are set to climb by at least 18 percent in the next ten years. China is expected to open up eventually to Western tobacco. Already it is known that 30 percent of the world’s cigarettes are smoked by the Chinese. British cancer expert Professor Richard Peto predicts that of all the Chinese children alive today, 50 million will eventually die from tobacco-related disease, reports The Sunday Times of London.
One of the characteristics identifying Jehovah’s Witnesses—more than four million worldwide—is that they do not use tobacco. Yet, many of them were formerly heavy smokers. They stopped when they realized that smoking is inconsistent with the Christian faith. (Matthew 22:39; 2 Corinthians 7:1) If you really want to be free of the addiction to tobacco, ask any one of them for help and advice. He or she will gladly give it.