Tobacco Capitalism: Growers, Migrant Workers, and the Changing Face of a Global Industry

By Peter Benson | Go to book overview

Conclusion
Reflections on the Tobacco Industry
(and American Exceptionalism)

DESPITE THE IMMENSE BURDEN of disease caused by tobacco and widespread critical awareness about the tobacco industry, ten times more people will die from smoking in the current century than died in the last century. This may be surprising to readers. In the United States, adult smoking prevalence has significantly declined since the peak in the 1960s. This decline contributes to the common misperception that the smoking problem lies in the past.

“At no moment in human history has tobacco presented such a dire and imminent risk to human health as it does today,” writes Allan M. Brandt (2007: 450). As smoking declined in Western countries, the multinational tobacco industry worked aggressively to expand and open cigarette markets around the world. The Philip Morris website proclaims a newfound responsibility concerning smoking issues. Visitors to the site do not learn about the billions of dollars tobacco companies spend each year on cigarette ads and political contributions in every world region, and their lurid pursuit of new smokers in developing countries where there are often relatively limited public health resources or regulations (Nichter and Cartwright 1991). On the website there is, conveniently, no mention of the 2006 U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit United States v. Philip Morris, which deemed tobacco companies “racketeers.” The website does not cite the presiding judge in that case, who found that the “defendants have marketed and sold their lethal product with zeal, with deception, with a single-minded focus on their financial success, and without regard for the human tragedy or social costs that success exacted.”

Philip Morris’s claims about responsibility are abetted by the company’s vocal support of FDA regulation of tobacco products. Compared to the other tobacco companies, are Philip Morris’s actions, including support of FDA regulation, better or worse for public health? Would U.S. consumers be better off if Philip Morris, like the rest of the tobacco industry, had continued to fight FDA regulation, not decided to fully acknowledge smoking risks and provide consumers with information about quitting, and not required their contract farmers to discontinue use of certain hazardous agricultural chemicals? The idea that Philip Morris (or any corporation) would pursue regulatory mandates that would undermine

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Tobacco Capitalism: Growers, Migrant Workers, and the Changing Face of a Global Industry
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations vii
  • Foreword ix
  • Preface xi
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I- The Tobacco Industry, Public Health, and Agrarian Change 35
  • Chapter 1- Most Admired Company 37
  • Chapter 2- The Jungle 63
  • Chapter 3- Enemies of Tobacco 96
  • Part II- Innocence and Blame in American Society 133
  • Chapter 4- Good, Clean Tobacco 135
  • Chapter 5- El Campo 166
  • Chapter 6- Sorriness 210
  • Conclusion Reflections on the Tobacco Industry (and American Exceptionalism) 258
  • Bibliography 275
  • Index 307
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