Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Pushing US Tobacco Abroad

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Pushing US Tobacco Abroad

Article excerpt

FACED with declining cigarette sales at home, American tobacco companies are vigorously promoting the use of their products abroad, particularly in Asia.

Whether they should be encouraging nations to take up a habit ruled harmful, and now generally socially unacceptable in the United States, is a major moral issue.

Even more controversial is the involvement of agencies of the US government in promoting Asian sales of American cigarettes. While some agencies of government, like the Office of Surgeon General, are trying to dissuade Americans from smoking, others, like the Office of the US Trade Representative, are actively assisting the tobacco companies in acquiring a larger share of the cigarette market overseas.

Big Washington names have been recruited in the campaign to make foreign governments open up their markets and make it easier for American tobacco companies to advertise their wares.

Former White House aide Michael Deaver became a lobbyist for American tobacco interests in South Korea. Sen. Jesse Helms, representing a big tobacco-growing state, twisted the arm of the Japanese prime minister. Senator Helms suggested that American cigarettemakers swiftly be given a 20 percent share of the Japanese market. Sens. Bob Dole, Christopher Dodd, Bob Kasten, and Lowell Weicker wrote the government of Hong Kong protesting a ban on smokeless tobacco. Such a ban, they argued, would be seen in the US as an "unfair and discriminatory restriction on foreign trade."

Both the US government and the tobacco companies rationalized their actions by insisting they are not trying to convert nonsmokers to smoking. They are, they argue, merely trying to capture a larger share of the existing market for American brands.

The publicly stated hopes of the tobacco companies, however, make no secret of their desire for substantially increased markets. …

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