Friday, July 11, 1997
AMERICAN CIGARETTES COLONIZE LEBANON
by Fareed Abou-Haidar
The following item appeared in the June 27, 1997, issue of ShufiMafi, a
weekly news report on Lebanon and the Lebanese on the internet.
"Lebanon is 4th largest consumer of US cigarettes
According to a report published this week by the Tobacco Merchants Association of the U.S., Lebanon is the fourth largest consumer of American cigarettes, after Japan, Belgium and Russia. American tobacco companies exported a record 244 billion cigarettes worth $5.24 billion in 1996."
The news appeared at about the same time that a huge settlement was announced between the U.S. government and tobacco manufacturers. Among other things, the tobacco companies will be prohibited from advertising to children, the content of advertisements will be severely restricted (no more Marlboro Man or Joe Camel), and billions of dollars will be paid by the companies to produce ads against smoking and to cover costs associated with treating smoking-related illnesses.
As a result, smoking is expected to continue to decline in the U.S. at an even steeper rate than before. Not surprisingly, it was announced that the companies expected to make up for their losses by exploiting the foreign (non-U.S.) market. It is worth noting that the tobacco settlement explicitly mentions that it applies to the U.S. only. This means that the tobacco companies can continue to attract new smokers all over the world.
Judging from the above item, it looks like Lebanon will be a primary benefactor for the American tobacco companies. It is not clear if the statistics refer to absolute number of cigarettes or to per-capita consumption, bit it's bad either way.
In any case, it is sobering news. The Lebanese smoke too much. During the war, when peoples' nerves were extended to the limit, the American tobacco companies, through their agents in Lebanon, mercilessly bombarded the airwaves and covered the newspapers with cigarette advertising. The result is that a huge number of Lebanese smoke. Many would like to give up but can't. Cancer is a common cause of death.
In recent years, anti-tobacco campaigns in Lebanon have gained energy. In fact, the health warnings on tobacco advertisements are bigger and more legible than those of the U.S.! The American University Hospital recently banned smoking, even inside offices. More recently, the government has done the same.
The Lebanese government needs to realize that Lebanon (and the rest of the world) is now, more than ever, in the crosshairs of the tobacco companies and their advertising allies on Madison Avenue. Therefore, more vigilance is needed, and anti-tobacco campaigns need to be strengthened even more.
People can start at home. The large tray loaded with every brand of cigarette available that greets you when you visit friends needs to go. Lebanese hospitality need not destroy the lungs of the guests. Smoking friends can be gently asked to smoke outside, using their own cigarettes. (That's the norm here at home.) The government needs to ban advertising, if not completely, then at least on the airwaves and within sight of schools. Anti-tobacco education at school is needed.
What does this have to do with the environment, you might ask? For starters, tobacco damages the human environment, starting with smokers' lungs and extending to non-smoking children and adults who inhale second-hand smoke. There is so much smoking in Lebanon that cigarette smoke can almost be considered to be air pollution, just like that coming from cars! It's bad for health and results in a sedentary lifestyle as smokers' energy is diminished. By extension, because of that, smokers are less likely to participate in vigorous outdoor activities, such as hiking, bicycling, swimming, diving, skiing, etc. that make people aware of their environment and the damage it is being subjected to. Smokers are more likely to drive around, stay at home, spend time doing indoor activities (television, restaurants, bars, playing cards...). These are activities where the state of the natural environment around them is of no immediate concern. More direct effects include cigarette butts littering the land and, worst of all, numerous forest fires that begin along roads as a result of lit cigarette butts discarded by careless people in cars.
Lebanon survived the fifteen military wars. Let's hope it can survive the assault of the American tobacco companies. A new war may be about to start in Lebanon!
"Tobacco: Tumor-causing, teeth-staining, stinking, smelly, puking habit!"
(I hope I got that mouthful of words right!) That's the slogan of a successful anti-tobacco effort in Arizona aimed at discouraging children from smoking.