The Tobacco Industry’s Image

I consider myself a capitalist and pro-business. Generally, I believe that business people are productive builders who help society. We have all, of course, encountered the exceptions. But there is one group of businesses for whom I can give no benefit of the doubt, and that’s the tobacco industry. For years, they have known that their products cause sickness and death. For years, they ignored the evidence, fought a legal and public relations battle and continued to produce their death sticks and other tobacco products. More, they sought to hook people faster and more effectively by upping the nicotine content of their products.

When there were whistleblowers among them, the industry strove to silence and punish them. Finally, as the government began to truly prosecute their involvement in consumer fraud (eschewing their campaign contributions after years of shamelessly taking them), the cigarette companies were forced to pay up — at least on paper, although who knows how much they will really pay in any kind of reparations.

Now, Phillip Morris, a major tobacco company (although it owns so much more, including major food companies) has begun a shameless corporate image campaign designed to tell us, of all things, that “tobacco companies have changed.” They cite their corporate good works for the homeless and other groups, all very well and good. But surely that does not balance their stock in trade, which involves selling things that harm people. How can they believe it would? How can they believe we consumers would be so easily taken in?

I smoked for years, even after my father died of heart problems associated with smoking. I finally quit using Smokenders. I have never sued a tobacco company. But I have watched as my three teen-age sons have been lured into smoking by their peers and by the tobacco companies themselves, who still produce catalogs for Camel points and offer a free trip to Hawaii as a grand prize (should the smoker collecting such points live long enough to take it). I have been angry enough — watching a whole new generation believe the hype — to sue.

As far as I am concerned, the only moral thing the tobacco industry can do is to stop making cigarettes and stop marketing them attractively by offering premiums and incentives. How can these people sleep at night? How can they cash their paychecks?

Here’s the bottom line: Spare us your ad campaigns, paid for with the hearts and lungs of so many of our friends and relatives and children. Stop making cigarettes. Stop promoting cigars as sexy and sophisticated, and pipes as dreamy and romantic. Once, these were indeed symbols of luxury and the good life. Now, they are symbols of sickness and death.

If the tobacco companies want expiation, there is only one remedy: Stop making the products that harm us all.

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