Smoking isn't good for you. Of course, there are a lot of things that aren't good for you, but we are starting to get more and more data about what habitual smoking does to the human body, both to the user and to bystanders, and it is not at all pretty. Although there are strong ethical arguments against the practice (including its contribution to health care costs for smokers and non-smokers alike), smoking would be impractical to outlaw outright. In developed countries, smoking is increasingly frowned upon socially and curtailed legally: it is getting more and more difficult to smoke in public space, smokers are regarded insurance risks, direct tobacco advertising pretty much a thing of the past, and only last week tobacco companies were required by the US Food and Drug Administration to put rather graphic warning labels
on their cigarette packs. Not exactly a friendly business climate for marketing and sales.
Which is why developing countries have become so attractive for multinational cigarette companies
over the last decade. The regulations -- for instance on tobacco advertising -- in some developing countries are less restrictive than those in the United States or Europe, and so companies search the world for regions marked by weak legislation and a strong consumer base, such as Indonesia. In this struggle between global big tobacco and global health agencies, the gloves are apparently off. Philip Morris has sued the country of Uruguay for loss of profits due to 'excessively restrictive' advertising policies. The World Health Organization, for its part, is advocating for stronger tobacco policies and laws globally, and encouraging individuals and governments to sue tobacco companies for harms to health. The WHO has even chosen to sponsor a summit in Uruguay this week
, attended by representatives of over 170 nations, to analyze and support policies that reduce the prevalence of smoking on this planet.
The struggle against smoking that started in the United States and Europe is now to be played out around the globe, on very many fronts. A complicating factor in the debate is that tobacco is also grown in some developing countries (such as Malawi), and curtailing tobacco sales could in the short term have a negative impact (health and otherwise) on poor tobacco farmers, pickers and processors. These considerations are not without merit, but they are ultimately outweighed by the damage (long and short term) smoking causes, particularly in developing countries that do not have the health care systems to adequately cope with the effects tobacco has on its users.
Labels: bioethics, global health, tobacco