6 WTF Things You Had No Idea Tobacco Companies Got Away With
Tobacco companies, and people complicit in their business, are responsible for the deaths of six million people a year, equivalent to the number of Jewish people killed in the Holocaust. Per year. You'd think that they'd be on the decline, what with everyone knowing how dangerous their products are. You'd be wrong. Tobacco companies have developed insidious tactics to stay relevant. Tactics such as ...
Preying On The Poor Through Advertising
Smoking's no longer seen as the high-class, decorative pearl ashtray affair that it once was. Today, we associate smoking much more with the type of working-class person who, after a long day, just wants to have their dinner, sit in front of the TV, and have a smoke while trying to figure out who the killer is two minutes before the guys in Hawaii Five-O do. But that stereotype didn't happen organically. The overworked, overburdened poor of this country are exactly the kind of soft target the tobacco industry has been preying on since day one.
You think this kind of dedication happens by accident?
Tobacco companies have developed several strategies to weasel their way into the low-income lifestyle -- and it's all about the community. They often target lower-class neighborhoods by bombarding them with ads and cheaper cigarettes. Not only that, but they also tend to insinuate themselves into these vulnerable communities via corporate contributions, making them seem like they're part of everyday life. Like Starbucks. Or cancer.
Not that they have to try hard -- the country's class system already does most of the grunt work for Big Tobacco. Income tends to cluster geographically, and low-income households have the worst mobility, which means that in these neighborhoods, smokers or potential smokers are likely to live so close to each other that most of them probably start smoking simply to get a break from the constant cloud of secondhand smoke wafting through their housing.
Its like if the phrase "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" was super deadly.
In fact, there's now a huge class disparity when it comes to cigarette smoking. Roughly 73 percent of the homeless population smokes cigarettes, because tobacco companies have found that the chronically disenfranchised are easy victims, like the bunch of slow-release serial killers that they are.
Honestly, we don't know where these companies find the time, considering that they're also ...
Ruthlessly Targeting Third-World Countries
Leave it to the tobacco companies to look at their systematic exploitation of the poor and say "We need to think bigger." After all, there are so many poor people in the world, many from countries with low health awareness and quite bribable governments.
So while U.S. tobacco farmers were in dire straits years ago, Big Tobacco has thrown them a new lifeline by giving them millions more customers overseas to poison. One of its most successful victims is Indonesia, currently the world's fifth-largest cigarette market and wheezing its way to the top. How is it possible that smoking is thriving in a massive country like Indonesia? Maybe these pictures have something to do with it:
These are not adults with cigarette-related stunted growth.
Chain-smoking kids are a common enough sight in Indonesia, due to the nation's lax laws on cigarettes and international companies (along with Indonesia's own tobacco companies) marketing heavily to children and teens. And they're not exactly being subtle about it, either. Here's a tobacco ad at a fucking playground:
Most kids don't have the lungs for the monkey bars anymore.
Here's a billboard for an Alicia Keys concert, sponsored by a brand owned by Philip Morris International:
This kind of endorsement from Keys is almost Un-Thinkable.
To her credit, Keyes did ask Philip Morris to take the billboards down. But still.
And while Philip Morris complied with Keyes' demand, they still heroically disavowed any wrongdoing by stating, "Whether tobacco sponsorship of music events leads to youth smoking is a matter of serious debate." That kind of explicit advertising no longer flies in the West, but is still allowed in Indonesia. The result? In 2006 (the most recent year data is available), 38 percent of Indonesian teens aged 13-15 smoked. Indonesian schools must have bleachers and bike sheds that go on for miles.
But this isn't only an Indonesian problem. As The Guardian points out, there's at least one reason the World Health Organization refers to cigarette smoking as an "epidemic" -- the kind that makes maps on which the most underdeveloped countries in the world light up like a game of Simon.
Coincidentally, that's also what most of their lungs currently look like.
That's not a map that shows the percentage of teenage smokers. That's a map that shows the frequency of teenagers being offered a free cigarette by a tobacco company.
Cigarette companies no longer deny that cigarettes are harmful to health. But that means they get to play it both ways, looking like banal, crisp, bright-smiling companies who take responsibility and are cleaning up their act, but refusing to change any of their oozing, oleaginous tactics behind the curtain -- or, in this case, outside America. Philip Morris International says it's committed to a smoke-free future, mainly by getting so many kids to smoke that it technically counts as smog.
And while they're at it, maybe they could stop ...
Running A Scorched-Earth Litigation Policy
If tobacco companies are responsible for so much death and disease, why does it seem like they're able to keep on truckin'? Shouldn't they have been sued into the ground until nothing but jaundiced craters remained at the site of their corporate offices? That might be because Big Tobacco spends about as much money on hordes of lawyers as it does on poisoning people.
"Hi, we're the legal team at Dewey, Cheatum & FuckYourHealth."
Let's take a look at the case of Betty Bullock, the daughter of a lung cancer victim who was awarded $28 billion in court against Philip Morris. They appealed and the penalty was reduced to $28 million. But Philip Morris has a bad habit of not letting go. They appealed that verdict, and when that failed, they appealed once more and got a retrial, resulting in an award of $13.8 million, which they've made very clear they are also going to appeal. Betty Bullock has since died. Are you getting the picture yet?
So yeah, the legal strategy is "Keep your lawsuits locked in appeals until the plaintiff dies." And it's not only that. Tobacco companies have been using the legal system to their advantage by paying a bunch of academics (academics who don't even have to know anything about tobacco) to shill for them in court. Then, to add insult to injury, they threaten and intimidate expert witnesses (who do know a lot about tobacco) who testify against them. Also, after insisting for decades that the research suggesting smoking is harmful was inaccurate or inconclusive, the new legal strategy for Big Tobacco is that they can't possibly be held accountable for people's bad decisions because everyone has always known that smoking causes health problems.
And that's their attitude when they win cases. It only gets worse when they lose, like ...
Continuing To Lie About Cigarettes In Direct Defiance Of A Court Order
What's the longest paper you've ever had to write? A 40-page thesis? A five-page short story? A curt note to your roommate about the "milk situation"? It takes a lot out of you, doesn't it? That must be how Judge Gladys Kessler felt, having written a 1,652-page legal analysis in a landmark decision ordering tobacco companies to stop lying. But like your roommate and your passive-aggressive Post-It on the fridge, the tobacco industry read Judge Kessler's work, decided they didn't give a fuck, and threw it in the trash.
"Recycling is another thing that can go fuck itself, too."
In her magnum opus, Judge Kessler ordered the industry to do several things, but one of the most important ones was to stop claiming that there was such a thing as a "healthier" cigarette. Tobacco companies originally invented low-tar cigarettes to address health concerns -- kind of like introducing mini-muffins. But, much like how we stuff our faces with all 12 mini-muffins instead of eating one, it turned out that people just changed their smoking habits to compensate for the lower nicotine levels -- something the tobacco companies knew would happen. And it didn't help that these cigarettes were specially designed to get around the FDA's cigarette-testing machines and show up with lower levels of tar than they actually had. Some experts believe that because of this nefarious strategy, "low-tar" cigarettes are in fact worse for smokers.
Despite this evidence, tobacco companies continuously defied Judge Kessler's order. In February 2016, after ten years of them "new phone, who dis"-ing a federal court order, Kessler then ordered that tobacco companies had to at least make these statements in their advertising:
To which they said "Hahahahaha nope!" and hired a bunch of scientists -- whose field of expertise by then was "testifying in court" -- to dispute the scientific consensus, because facts don't mean anything if you can pay enough people to lie for you. But that's not all. Tobacco companies aren't content to continue making their old horrible product. They're interested in exciting new horizons, like ...
Moving Into The E-Cigarette Market
What with our smartphones and steam-powered trains, we're basically living in the future. So it's only natural that some people would try creating the cigarette of the future. Enter e-cigarettes and vape pens, the smoke of the future and our only hope of ever putting Big Tobacco out of business!
Hmm, what's that? The tobacco companies have just been buying up e-cigarette companies or inventing their own devices, cornering the market while continuing to make billions from traditional cigarettes? Well, shit.
Incredible. They somehow made vaping even douchier.
But at least this new venture keeps them from harming more people, right? E-cigarettes are definitely less harmful than old-fashioned grandpa cigarettes, right? Well, e-cigarettes aren't the worst thing in the world for you, but they're not exactly broccoli, as some e-cigarette smoke contains carcinogens of its own.
Also, e-cigarettes are particularly attractive to children and teens, what with all the fun flavors and flashy lights. Which is bad news, because experts still fear that vaping can ironically be a gateway drug to real smoking. We're not saying there's necessarily a grand conspiracy here to get kids to start smoking, but injecting something that looks like a cigarette with "gummy bear" flavor is as suspicious as getting your minivan windows darkened right before Halloween.
"Hey, kids, gotta get 'em all!"
By now, you must be wondering how tobacco companies can get away with all these shady practices. We're glad you asked, because the thing is, they're ...
Enlisting The U.S. Chamber Of Commerce To Fight Their Battles
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce sounds pretty damn political, but that's because you're thinking of the Department of Commerce in the president's Cabinet. The Chamber is a giant group of businesses united together so that the U.S. will pursue what they deem pro-business policies. And the Chamber has deemed that there's nothing as American as shoving American tobacco down everyone's throats. That's why Big Tobacco and the Chamber of Commerce have been using their combined might to intimidate countries into shelving their own tobacco regulations.
"So emphysema's been getting a bad rap lately, right?"
How do they do this? Like any pitchfork-wielding devil, they have a "three-pronged strategy:"
Prong one: Partnering with its foreign affiliates (it has more than 100 overseas), the Chamber fights anti-tobacco laws in each country, thereby keeping the fight against smoking as divided as possible. It helps that there is often confusion about whether or not the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has anything to do with the U.S. government (it doesn't), and they prefer not to correct anyone.
"This is written on legal paper. Its probably legit."
Prong two: It plays country against country, like how it provoked Ukraine into suing Australia over Australia's right to enact stringent anti-smoking laws on Australia's own land.
Prong three: The head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce himself, Thomas J. Donohue, personally lobbies Washington on behalf of the tobacco companies.
The latter, by the by, is contrary to the Chamber of Commerce's own procedures. They're supposed to be advocates for business in a more general sense, instead of focusing on specific pet issues. The Chamber tries to pass it off as trying to protect a branch of business under fire, but as a collection of these threatening letters to different countries shows, they will go as far as attacking legislation like bans on smoking in public places.
And if that seems like Big Tobacco has its yellow-stained hand up the Chamber's exit, you might be right. A position paper on plain packaging used by the Chamber in Brussels sounded a lot like it was written by a tobacco company. The New York Times discovered that was probably because an early draft was written by Anne-Laure Covin, a Philip Morris International executive.
Weirdly, some of the Chamber's members are suspiciously okay with this, including several hospital groups and insurers (you know, the same insurers who will screw you over for smoking). Also included in the Chamber is Pfizer, makers of Chantix, the smoking-cessation drug. So now it's come full circle -- you make money off of the disease, then you make money off of the cure. Cancer is big business, after all.
Nimby Smith wants you to know that if you want to quit smoking, a good first step is to call a toll-free service, such as 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669), a national routing number to each state's program. They are staffed by quit coaches -- people trained to help you with a personalized plan to quit smoking. Hours vary. You can also call 877-44U-QUIT (877-448-7848), which is run by the National Cancer Institute. Once again, tobacco companies kill up to half their customers, and kill six million people a year. Also, you should read all those links in the last entry -- they lead to some really solid reporting.
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