Douse That Killer Puff

By Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)

June 3, 2003

“Come on buddy! Have a puff.”

“I don’t smoke.”

“What’s the matter with you?”

“Nothing. I just don’t like smoking.”

“Hey guys! Listen! He doesn’t like smoking. Ha! Ha! Ha! Are you a chicken?”

“Please stop laughing at me.”

“If you are man enough you must smoke with us. Just a puff, please, please, please.”

“Didn’t you see that movie with the dashing hero, the Marlboro man, smoking his cigarettes, and all the girls, the prettiest ones, were dying to get his love?”

“That’s just a movie.”

“Well, smoking is cool. And if you want to be our friend, you must smoke with us.”

“Okay, just one puff, not more.”

“All righty! Just a puff.”

Thus begins the addiction of smoking. The one puff becomes the second one, then the third one, and what you know? You are addicted to the hypnotic nicotine for the rest of your life.

The billion dollar global smoking industries spend enormous amount of their investment in attracting kids, teens; the allusion of smoking mesmerizes even the grown up men and women. In pop culture, smoking is considered to be cool. It is the bastion of one’s following the “cool” dashing symbol of modernity.

And the oncology departments, the hospitals, the cardiology departments, if you ever have to visit, you will see downtrodden faces, the sleepless relatives’ glaring stares, dried tears on their cheeks still visible, waiting patiently in front of the operation theater, or emergency room. Their loved one’s stopped heart is being put under current filled electrodes for the jump start, or the resident surgeons are washing hands with crystal colored soap before doing another bloody surgery to save a patient’s life. There are painkillers, morphine, to curb the unbearable pain from cancers of all kinds, the chemotherapy, the latest gizmo of cancer experiments, are all there. But there are deaths that cannot be stopped from stealing another life, someone’s father, mother, brother, sister, or beloved wife or husband; even the small children are not immune from these tragic deaths.

Death is a certainty for us mortals. There are researches to prolong life, anti-ageing, cure for all kinds of diseases, social and political regulations to avoid tragic accidents, at work or home, or on the road from a drunken driver, but death always finds us in its unstoppable ways.

But some deaths are surely preventable. Studies after studies have conclusively proved the viciousness of smoking, the link between smoking and cancer and heart disease are made years ago. These findings are confirmed, reconfirmed in new studies, new laws are enacted to curb the smoking, higher taxes are imposed per packets of cigarettes to discourage the smokers. There are cities, municipalities around the globe where public place smoking is banned officially, with stiff fine for the law breakers, but smoking is still not been abated.

A few positive steps are taken recently, especially, the World Health Organization (WHO) has arranged The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) that was concluded on March 1st 2003. The various responsible world organizations provided undisputed studies that had shown a stunning statistics that “unless countries adopt tougher anti-tobacco measures, the annual death toll will exceed 10 million by 2020, with 70% of the victims in the developing world.” [1]

Although this statistical information stuns many, but the powerful interests, the political lobbying groups, brawny from cigarette producers’ limitless coffers, are in action as well. Once they used to counter the anti-smoking camps with their own employed “scientific researchers” to prove that “cigarette is cool”. But the thousands of proven scientific cases and experiments that conclusively linked cigarette smoking with premature deaths, the cigarettes makers have backed down from pursuing their pseudo scientific theories. Now they are employing other tricks, they are raising the economic devastation myths.

Kenneth E. Warner is the University of Michigan’s Professor of Public Health. In his recent article that was published by the World Bank Group, he has flawlessly sliced the cigarette makers’ new trickery tricks.

The cigarette makers are now saying that they agree with the negative health consequences of smoking but they are against the anti-smoking policies of a nation because, according to them it will ruin a nation’s treasury because many nations depend on revenues generated by cigarette makers, the tobacco farmers will be devastated, there will be thousands of job losses in this lucrative sector. “The industry wields its argument - with country-specific estimates of the toll - every time that legislatures contemplate adopting tobacco control policies, ranging from restrictions on cigarette advertising to increased cigarette taxes to bans on smoking in public places.” [3]

And the smooth talks of cigarette makers’ dashing or beauty representatives convince the legislators of these nations. Perhaps there are more economic incentives, like kickbacks to a few influential corrupted hands are involved on the top of displaying of beauties.

Professor Warner here presents gripping viewpoints: “The industry's argument sounds compelling to the intended audience because the listeners fail to appreciate the distinction between tobacco's presence in a country and that country's dependence on tobacco. The presence of tobacco agriculture and cigarette manufacture and sale does mean that significant numbers of workers are employed in tobacco-related economic activity. The industry informs legislators and other policy influentials that a health policy-induced loss of, for example, 5% of cigarette sales will translate into a comparable loss in jobs. However, this perspective treats reduced spending on tobacco products as if it simply went up in smoke. In point of fact, if people spend less money on tobacco products, they will devote the "windfall" to other spending (and possibly some saving). That alternative pattern of spending will create jobs in other industries comparable in number to those lost in tobacco. As economists appreciate, economies are built to support a given level of employment regardless of marginal changes in spending patterns. Economists appreciate that; legislators do not. The simple fact is that, despite tobacco's widespread presence in numerous national economies, no more than a handful of countries are at all dependent on tobacco.” [3]

Also, as Professor Warner points out that even the nations who are the most successful in curbing smoking, are able to diminish it at a mere rate of 2% annually, “This means that the transition away from spending on tobacco occurs so gradually that no one need be thrown out of work. Rather, normal attrition, through voluntary job changes, retirements, and deaths, will handle any loss of tobacco industry jobs. As economist Tom Schelling put it nearly 20 years ago, success in tobacco control means not that tobacco farmers will lose their jobs, but rather that their children will be less likely to go into tobacco farming.” [3]

The fresh studies show that the poorer nations will be paying the most with their citizens’ lives since 70% of the deaths related to cigarette smoking will be coming from these poverty stricken nations.

The recent steps by the World Health Organization are encouraging, but the steps to curb smoking effectively are filled with havoc. The powerful interest groups, especially from USA, Germany, Japan, China and many other tobacco producer nations will employ their best lawyers, public speakers, hired “researchers” and goofy or charming entertainers to foil the anti-smoking initiatives. They have immense amount of resources. They are well organized, working in unison under billions of dollar worth cigarette makers’ enviable network spread from the richest to the poorest nations. But the struggles for smoking-ban is taking hold on nations; people have started asking questions on the fancy myths generated by these profit seeking, smoking greedy bunches.

In Bangladesh, “anti-smoking campaigners found that appealing to people to stop smoking for the sake of their health was ineffective. However, when campaigners showed how money spent on cigarettes meant there was less food for poor families to eat, while half of all young Bangladeshi children are malnourished, the impact was dramatic.” [1]

And in Poland, “the country’s traditional smoking culture has been turned on its head over the last 10 years, as policymakers and the medical community have helped engineer a social revolution that reduced the numbers of Polish men smoking tobacco, and has already sharply reduced lung cancer rates among young men.” [1]

The luscious smiles of model girls holding the arms of muscular Marlboro man in talismanic billboards that can be found in any metropolitan cities, the full-page colorful adds of coolness of cigarettes in glossy magazines, newspapers, and every other possible advertising mediums, are still not been thrown out into the deserved waste bins. But that day is perhaps not far away.

1. “Curbing the Tobacco Epidemic”, The World Bank Group, June 2, 2003.

2. “Framework Convention Alliance”, Cancer Foundation of Western Australia.

3. Kenneth E. Warner, “The Economic Consequences of Tobacco: Dispelling the Myths”, The World Bank Group.


Mahbubul Karim (Sohel) is a freelance writer. His email address is: