Cancer Sticks: Capitalist racism

In July, I wrote about the way tobacco companies are shifting their businesses away from certain regions to others.  What I failed to point out then was the inherent racism of such “marketing”, and of governments who let them do it.

Of the five largest tobacco companies in the world (there used to be six before 2017), they are US owned, British owned, UK-US, from Japan and China.  Together, they sell and estimated 94.5% of all tobacco products sold.

Due to rising rate of cancers and public ire, tobacco laws have regulated, controlled and limited the advertising, sales and use of tobacco in wealthier countries.  Even those which have long been filth-pits of cigarette smoke (e.g. Czech Republic, China, Russia, Philippines, France, Italy, South American countries) have enacted strong legislation to curtail smoking and limit who can.  Combined with falling numbers of smokers in G7 and G20 countries, tobacco companies have been desperate to find new suckers (pun definitely intended) to buy their filth.  Even the Chinese and Japanese governments have begun an anti-smoking campaigns and legislation.When democracies have strong laws, public education about the dangers of smoking and public accountability for their politicians, what else can the death peddlars do but start selling to countries which don’t have strong anti-smoking legislation?  To countries with governments easily influenced by corporate money?  To countries where smoking was never popular because of poverty?

Africa and Asia have become key “new markets” for tobacco companies because there are few strong anti-smoking movements, little legislation, and the countries have no experience with the long term hazardous effects of smoking.  But the most sickening part is the fact that the US, UK and other governments are letting them do it.  They are letting these companies sell death to the poorest people in the world, addicting people who have precious little wealth as it is.  They know it is hazardous, and yet they take no action to prevent it because it is “free market capitalism”.

This is governments condoning racism, not “capitalism”.  This is governments remaining silent as corporations sell products abroad they cannot sell to people in their own countries.  This is governments allowing companies to market tobacco to children when it is illegal in their own countries.  This is governments allowing companies to money out of the homes of the poor, food out of the mouths of children, and move it to rich countries.  This is akin to fur traders in Canada selling alcohol to First Nations people.

It is the most vile, repulsive form of racism because it is condoned, protected and encouraged by the governments of wealthy countries against the poorest countries of the world. 

What are the widows and children going to do after the breadwinner in the family has died of cancer (because smoking is predominantly and adult male addiction)?  Sue the tobacco companies in New York, London, Tokyo and Beijing when they can’t even afford a lawyer and there’s no legal prescedent for suing in their country?  And when you look at who the victims are, Africans and Asians, will the average citizens of rich countries speak up and do anything about it?  Not likely because it doesn’t affect them either.

Some will even callously laugh and enjoy the idea.  Who cares about some black or brown people?  Why prevent lung cancer and other cancers when you can make money by treating it instead?


  1. sonofrojblake says

    Nope. No guilt here.

    First – the “racist” companies are, as you say, from three completely separate racial groups (assuming you consider the US and the UK to be a single racial group, i.e. white, on the defensible basis that most of those in influence in those companies are likely to be white).
    You say “wealthier countries” have limited smoking, but have to concede that the “filth-pits” of South America have also done so. You hold this up as a triumph of democracy, literally one sentence after you observe that China – well known bastion of democracy – has begun anti-smoking campaigns and legislation.

    Best sentence of the post is this:

    the countries have no experience with the long term hazardous effects of smoking

    If only there was some way the people and governments of Africa and Asia could find out about the hazards of smoking, hazards we in the First World have been cruelly keeping secret from them and never talking about. One day we might permit people in Africa and Asia to use the internet, then the jig will be up.

    The UK and US governments let them do it because the product is legal, here as well as in those other markets.

    This is governments remaining silent as corporations sell products abroad they cannot sell to people in their own countries

    No it isn’t. Cigarettes are legal in the UK. Several of my work colleagues buy and use literally them every day.

    Any country can choose to make products legal or illegal. Right now, cannabis is legal in significant parts of the US, but not anywhere in the UK. If a UK tobacco company was profiting from that fact, you might, possibly, have some point of hypocrisy to make about that. But smoking is legal in literally every single country in the world… except one.

    Rather badly for your point, the tiny Asian country of Bhutan, which has one of the lowest GDPs in the world, is a constitutional monarchy and only legalised television in 1999, is also the world’s only smoke-free country. Any country that wishes to could perfectly easily do the same.

    There’s no racism here: there are choices being made by some, but demonstrably not all, governments in Asia and Africa. Take it up with them, and don’t go blaming the companies that operate within the law to take advantage of opportunities where they exist. Tobacco is proven harmful, but so is alcohol. I like a drink now and then, so I’d be hypocritical condemning those who like to smoke, so long as they keep it away from me.

    • says

      That’s exactly what I meant: people in wealthy (and mostly white) countries not worried about the effects on poor countries because it doesn’t affect themselves. And pretending it’s about “freedumb” and “capitalism”.