Big tobacco is thriving despite a reduction in the number of smokers and the known negative health effects of cigarettes. Tobacco companies increased their production of cigarettes from 5,000 billion in the 1990s to 5,900 billion cigarettes in 2009.
Developing countries are the big consumers now with 76% of the world’s cigarette sales while the West cut back to 24%. Tobacco companies take advantage of lax laws and unenforced bans to aggressively promote cigarettes to new, young consumers. In Nigeria, Ukraine and Brazil, companies sponsor club nights or parties to attract new young users. In Russia cigarette packages made to look like jewel-encrusted perfume bottles and cigarettes by designers like Yves Saint Laurent lure young women to start smoking.
While the tobacco companies clever marketing grabs hold of the consumers, their lawyers are squeezing governments with lawsuits and promoting false statistics to sway public opinion. Countries, like Uruguay, are taken to court when they attempt to go against big tobacco which also influences the decisions made on tobacco in other countries in the region.
When the UK banned smoking in all enclosed public and work places, the tobacco companies used a front group, Tobacco Manufacturers Association, to lobby politicians to argue that smoke-free legislation destroyed the pub trade when in fact there was a net increase in people visiting pubs. The relentless tobacco industry will contine to grow unless the worlds’ governments come together to remove the choke-hold that tobacco has in the world.