The Lancet contra big Tobacco

Wow. The most prestigious medical journal is no fan, and doesn’t tempt to hide that, at all..   
Tobacco companies expand their epidemic of death
The Lancet

On Feb 10, Philip Morris International will report their 2010 full-year results. We guess that they will make much of their claim to sell their products in 160 countries worldwide. Tobacco is a good global business to be in. Last week saw Imperial Tobacco report increases in sales of cigarettes to Africa, the Middle East, and Asia Pacific. The company’s share price rose steeply. One newspaper reported that “Imperial declared it was increasing the [share] dividend on the back of its strengthening position”. Analysts said forecasts that smoking was on the decline had been “overdone”.

Go to Imperial Tobacco’s website and you will find boasts that sales are up 10% in Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, and Russia. New markets are opening up—in South Korea, for example. Sales are on the rise in Laos and Vietnam. And across Africa, the Middle East, eastern Europe, and Asia Pacific, revenues increased to £2·34 billion last year.

For companies like Philip Morris and Imperial Tobacco—selling, addicting, and killing, surely the most cruel and corrupt business model human beings could have invented—it is not surprising that they see “many opportunities for us to develop our business” in vulnerable low-income and middle-income countries. Without a trace of irony or shame, Imperial’s management team reported to investors last week that the company won a Gold Award rating in a 2009 corporate responsibility index.

Yet tobacco executives know they are peddling death. If one tries to view Imperial’s investor presentation, several slides are now blank. Why? Imperial says “because we do not feature tobacco product imagery on our website”. While tobacco companies such as Philip Morris and Imperial Tobacco spread their killing fields in far away places, they try to sanitise their “imagery” for investors.

We should not pick on Philip Morris and Imperial Tobacco. The big five tobacco manufacturers also include British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco, and Altria. BAT describes the cigarette industry as “recession resistant”. It is also morally repugnant.