Tobacco firms target 3rd world

Chris Burford cburford at
Sun Dec 13 11:21:06 PST 1998

Although the market for women smokers in advanced capitalist countries is not exhausted, mounting pressure for restrictions on marketing, mean that the tobacco monopolists must look elsewhere to increase their profits.

Their strategy is to target the third world, where cigarette smoking among men may be fairly widespread but not yet under the control of the monopolies.

The next information comes from a meeting held by the World Development Movement, an offshoot of Oxfam, which is itself not a charity, and can campaign politically for economic justice in the world. I subscribe to it.

WDM has succesfully sued the British government over diverting aid to the building of the Pergau Dam in Indonesia with unethical business practices. It has also recently helped to force Delmonte to agree to recognise unions.

Taking up the tobacco multinationals is for WDM the first step in a wider strategy to control multinationals. At present international agreements have been won on the environment, on the ozone layer, and on evironmental waste. The launch by the World Health Organisation of its campaign against tobacco, as one of its two main campaigns, with its new leader, Gro Bruntland, former prime minister of Norway, is the first attempt to control on a global level, the production of a commodity.

The major monopolists are British American Tobacco, Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds.

There are currently about one million deaths from tobacco related diseases in developing countries. This figure is calculated to rise to 7 million within a few decades.

Some of the techniques for getting control of national markets were illustrated in the cases of Sri Lanka and Malaysia.

In Sri Lanka the profit of British American Tobacco is 5.2 million pounds. Advertisements emphasise the social image of internationalism connected with smoking its cigarettes. Football is heavily sponsored. This is in a country where it has been estimated that only 5% of smokers start smoking after the age of 15.

In Malaysia, only 5% of women smoke at present, and smoking is forbidden by the islamic faith. But one of the techniques is to host a fashionable evening and give out packets of cigarettes to guests on arrival for the privileged layers of society.

This is a country in which 2 packets of cigarettes a day may represent 20% of the income of a working man. So for the proletariat, it may be life's only luxury and sophistication, although at a price he and his family cannot afford. Whether he knows he is benefitting from the solidarity of Jim Heartfield is doubtful.

There is evidence of the usual range of tricks of the monopolists already known in advanced capitalist countries, including brand diversification.

The evidence that the campaigners have accumulated of course cannot include evidence of the secret lobbying of opinion formers within the governments.

A CNN broadcast last month had details of how BAT have tried to penetrate China, where advertising of cigarettes is not allowed but 3/4 of men smoke. In October 1997 BAT put on a "rave" in Shanghai at which packets of 35's were given out free.

Imports of monopolists cigarettes are offically only 2% of sales in China, but smuggling brings the proportion up to a substantial 10%. The scope for criminal activity is substantial.

Gerry Lloyd, a major business man based in Hong Kong, linked with an international tobacco company is now in jail. The body of the chief prosecution witness was found in Hong Kong harbour.

An interview with the Chairman of BAT on CNN on 27 October, Martin Broughton, described 40% of its earnings coming from "emerging markets". He appeared sanguine about the market holding up for his products whatever the recession. For example he described the situation in Indonesia as representing "a strong recovery position of us". The change in governmental structure means that there are openings to make purchases of local companies (presumably for the purpose of concentration of capital and more effective domination of the market).

The Asian crisis means that some countries like Thailand and Korea, which have previously had government control of cigarettes, will now provide new business opportunities for BAT, he said.

"And how does the bourgeoisie get over these crises? On the one hand by enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other, by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones." Marx and Engels, Communist Manifesto, 1848.

Even at a cost of an extra 6 million deaths a year.

Chris Burford


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