FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How Tobacco Became the Opium War of the 21st Century

shutterstock_232964731

When Christopher Columbus explored the New World in 1492, he found the natives smoking a native plant, tobacco, which they did both for medicinal and ceremonial purposes, and was the first to introduce it in Europe.

From 1617 to 1793, tobacco was the most widely used and valuable staple export from the English American mainland colonies and the United States. Columbus would have never imagined that shortly after its introduction in Europe tobacco would become one of the main threats to health in several Latin American and Asian countries, as opium did in the XIX century, particularly in China.

Tobacco, one of the most addictive substances in the world, was introduced to China via Japan or the Philippines in the 1600s. In 1643, Fang Yizhi, a Chinese scholar, was one of the first to alert on the dangers of tobacco when he wrote that smoking tobacco for too long would “blacken the lungs” and lead to death. Chongzhen, the emperor at the time, outlawed growing tobacco and smoking its leaves.

In 1858, the Treaty of Tianjin (Tientsin) which ended the first part of the Second Opium War (1856-1860) not only legalized the import of opium but allowed cigarettes to be imported to China duty-free. By 1900, China was almost entirely permeated by foreign companies.

In 1929, Fritz Lickint, a German scientist from Dresden, published the first statistical evidence linking tobacco use and lung cancer, a finding that was confirmed in 1950 in an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Only in 1999 the Philipp Morris tobacco company acknowledged that, “There is an overwhelming medical and scientific consensus that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and other serious diseases in smokers.”

Today, while its use has diminished considerably in industrialized countries, it is having a devastating effect on the health of the Chinese population. As Dr. Bernard Lown, a famous cardiologist, already indicated in 2007, “The struggle against tobacco is not being won, it is being relocated.” He also denounced that cigarettes are becoming more addictive and more lethal because of the higher tar and nicotine content.

The state-owned China National Tobacco Corporation (CNTC), trading as China Tobacco, founded in 1982, accounts for roughly 30 percent of the world’s total production of cigarettes, and it is the largest manufacturer of tobacco products. China National Tobacco Corporation falls under the jurisdiction of the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration, or STMA.

The STMA has been under constant pressure from the World Trade Organization (WTO) to loosen its monopoly. Since 2001, increased access has been granted to foreign companies. Today, although CNTC dominates China’s market, foreign brands can still be found in large cities in China. In 2007, it was estimated that CNTC had 32 percent of the world tobacco market.

Tobacco smoking still continues to place a heavy toll on the Chinese people’s health. It is estimated that every day roughly two thousand Chinese die due to smoking. China has now approximately 360 million smokers – a number greater than the U.S. population- who consume 37 percent of the world’s cigarettes. In addition, almost 800 million people suffer the consequences of second-hand smoke. According to the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine, smoking will be responsible for approximately 3.2 million deaths annually by 2030.

Tobacco is also costly to the country’s economy. Although tobacco firms paid 864.9 billion yuan in taxes in 2012, when the combined health care costs of those made sick by tobacco plus the loss of productivity they represent the cost is probably much higher. The increased health costs as a result of smoking are part of the tragic legacy of tobacco.

Paradoxically, while the US government has been extremely successful in discouraging smoking at home, it has successfully put pressure on Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Thailand to break their domestic tobacco monopolies, at the same time flooding them with American cigarettes. This led former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop to state, “People will look on this era of the health of the world, as imperialistic as anything since the British Empire – but worse.”

Through its issuing of the China Tobacco Control Plan (2012-2015) the Chinese government has indicated its intention to lower the negative impact of smoking on the Chinese people. The plan, however, has been widely criticized by its lack of concrete proposals.

To effectively combat smoking it is necessary to mobilize communities, educate the people about the health risks and high costs of smoking, impose punitive fines in class action suits and increase tax on cigarettes. Unless these measures are implemented, tobacco will end up causing more damage to the Chinese people than the Opium Wars did in the XIX century.

 

More articles by:

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

Weekend Edition
July 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Atwood
Peace or Armageddon: Take Your Pick
Paul Street
No Liberal Rallies Yet for the Children of Yemen
Nick Pemberton
The Bipartisan War on Central and South American Women
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Are You Putin Me On?
Andrew Levine
Sovereignty: What Is It Good For? 
Brian Cloughley
The Trump/NATO Debacle and the Profit Motive
David Rosen
Trump’s Supreme Pick Escalates America’s War on Sex 
Melvin Goodman
Montenegro and the “Manchurian Candidate”
Salvador   Rangel
“These Are Not Our Kids”: The Racial Capitalism of Caging Children at the Border
Matthew Stevenson
Going Home Again to Trump’s America
Louis Proyect
Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and the Dilemmas of the Left
Patrick Cockburn
Iraqi Protests: “Bad Government, Bad Roads, Bad Weather, Bad People”
Robert Fantina
Has It Really Come to This?
Russell Mokhiber
Kristin Lawless on the Corporate Takeover of the American Kitchen
John W. Whitehead
It’s All Fake: Reality TV That Masquerades as American Politics
Patrick Bobilin
In Your Period Piece, I Would be the Help
Ramzy Baroud
The Massacre of Inn Din: How Rohingya Are Lynched and Held Responsible
Robert Fisk
How Weapons Made in Bosnia Fueled Syria’s Bleak Civil War
Gary Leupp
Trump’s Helsinki Press Conference and Public Disgrace
Josh Hoxie
Our Missing $10 Trillion
Martha Rosenberg
Pharma “Screening” Is a Ploy to Seize More Patients
Basav Sen
Brett Kavanaugh Would be a Disaster for the Climate
David Lau
The Origins of Local AFT 4400: a Profile of Julie Olsen Edwards
Rohullah Naderi
The Elusive Pursuit of Peace by Afghanistan
Binoy Kampmark
Shaking Establishments: The Ocasio-Cortez Effect
John Laforge
18 Protesters Cut Into German Air Base to Protest US Nuclear Weapons Deployment
Christopher Brauchli
Trump and the Swedish Question
Chia-Chia Wang
Local Police Shouldn’t Collaborate With ICE
Paul Lyons
YouTube’s Content ID – A Case Study
Jill Richardson
Soon You Won’t be Able to Use Food Stamps at Farmers’ Markets, But That’s Not the Half of It
Kevin MacKay
Climate Change is Proving Worse Than We Imagined, So Why Aren’t We Confronting its Root Cause?
Thomas Knapp
Elections: More than Half of Americans Believe Fairy Tales are Real
Ralph Nader
Warner Slack—Doctor for the People Forever
Lee Ballinger
Soccer, Baseball and Immigration
Louis Yako
Celebrating the Wounds of Exile with Poetry
Ron Jacobs
Working Class Fiction—Not Just Surplus Value
Perry Hoberman
You Can’t Vote Out Fascism… You Have to Drive It From Power!
Robert Koehler
Guns and Racism, on the Rocks
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir: Implementation with Integrity and Will to Resolve
Justin Anderson
Elon Musk vs. the Media
Graham Peebles
A Time of Hope for Ethiopia
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Homophobia in the Service of Anti-Trumpism is Still Homophobic (Even When it’s the New York Times)
Martin Billheimer
Childhood, Ferocious Sleep
David Yearsley
The Glories of the Grammophone
Tom Clark
Gameplanning the Patriotic Retributive Attack on Montenegro
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail