There is a need for a more radical response to the tobacco industry. We need an organization that is not afraid to take the issues directly to those involved, and which operates peacefully up to the limit of what the law will allow.
Greenpeace sent small inflatable boats into test areas to prevent atom bombs being exploded. Perhaps someone should block access to tobacco fields to prevent farmers from being able to harvest their crops until it is too late and they are damaged by frost.
Médecins Sans Frontières sends physicians, nurses and logistical support to hospitals in war zones. There needs to be similar support for anti-smoking lobbyists in countries such as Indonesia, who are receiving death threats.
Anonymous hacks into the computers of organizations it believes are acting against the public interest.
One group of activists, BUGA – UP in Australia, used graffiti to deface cigarette advertisements.
Other examples of the actions a radical anti-tobacco group could take are:
Protesting at shareholder meetings of the major tobacco countries, perhaps by insisting on smoking or by changing into skeleton costumes during the event.
Hang huge posters from tobacco industry offices and factories.
Disrupt recruiting to tobacco companies, for example by:
Persuading Workopolis and other sites not to accept adverts for tobacco jobs.
Putting advertisements on billboards near tobacco company buildings asking people why they work for a business that kills people.
Posting information about people who have been promoted in the tobacco industry, highlighting some of the less ethical things that company does.
Picketing cigarette factories.
Encourage those who have suffered from the tobacco industry, either personally or through friends and family, to let the industry know what they have done. They should write a Victim Impact Statement explaining how tobacco has affected their life. For example, they could write an obituary of a parent, headed by a picture of that person smoking, mentioning the brand of cigarettes he or she smoked, specifying how he or she died as a result and requesting donations be sent to an anti-tobacco lobby group.
Send tobacco executives updates from their regular customers. “Here’s a picture of me smoking your cigarettes while on vacation. Here’s a picture of my gangrenous toes. By the way, I will be in Hamilton General Hospital in March for a below-knee amputation if you would like to send me a get well soon card.”
You may be wondering why my uncle no longer comes by your store to buy a packet of Export A on his way to work each day. He had a heart attack and died last week. The cigarettes you sold him, killed him”.
Sue people who work in the tobacco industry. The tobacco industry is not afraid to sue. In fact, as JohnOliver reported, they are very willing to sue countries such as Australia, Uruguay, Togo and the Solomon Islands which attempt to pass tobacco control regulations to improve the health of their citizens. We need a hot-shot lawyer who could find ways to prosecute individuals in the tobacco industry. The charges could be anything from murder to manslaughter to grievous bodily harm.Or maybe racketeering. It is not enough merely to fine the industry and shave a few percentage points off their profits. Individuals who work for the tobacco industry should feel a personal threat that they could be served, that their friends and colleagues could be subpoenaed and that they could spend time on trial. It would be nice to win these cases, but the main purpose would be to harass people and make it more difficult for the tobacco industry to recruit qualified staff.
We are dealing with an opponent who is unscrupulous and as rich as many countries. In a James Bond style thriller eco-terrorists would spray tobacco crops with herbicide from a flotilla of small planes, and kidnap the CEO’s of the six major tobacco companies until they agreed to blow up their factories, never ceasing in their activities until eventually the very last tobacco plant was destroyed. Tobacco would follow Smallpox into the list of vanquished health problems. It’s a nice fantasy, but what can be done in the real world?
At a federal government level, we should be calling for a ban on the tobacco industry in Canada. Instead of helping farmers grow tobacco and running a Transition Program which actually increased the productivity of tobacco farms, cigarette manufacturing plants should face the threat of nationalization and closure.
Plain packaging, as shown above, inAustralia, and as promised for Canada, needs to become the international standard.
The minimum legal age for smoking needs to be increased to 21 everywhere. Hawaii and New York City, Honduras, Samoa, Cleveland, Kuwait, Kansas City and Sri Lanka have already succeeded.
The WHO has a great program, based on the acronym MPOWER to help governments establish tobacco controls, but they are underfunded compared to the advertising campaigns of the big tobacco companies. Somehow, we need to get the message out to young people in poor countries that it is not cool, or “Western” or modern or smart, or in any way desirable to buy and smoke cigarettes.
There is an almost endless supply of websites, like this one, ranting about the evils of the tobacco industry. Volumes have been written by serious and worthy academics, like Tobacco Control BMJ, the WHO and the Tobacco Atlas. TV documentaries abound, some going back to the 1960’s.
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Please sign my petition to increase the minimum legal smoking age in Canada to 21.