The power of large tobacco companies has been heavily restricted over the last few decades in the UK; including a ban on the advertisement of tobacco, a nationwide smoking ban in enclosed spaces and talk of introducing plain packaging on tobacco products.
However, it would be incredibly naive to suggest that ‘big tobacco’ companies have been made impotent by these measures.
Just because big tobacco is restricted through our legislation doesn’t mean that they are no longer a threat.
Companies such as British American Tobacco and Philip Morris International continue to exploit and damage the environment, whilst shifting their focus to vulnerable developing nations, crippling them with increased healthcare costs and infertile soil.
For decades, big tobacco has polluted the environment in every stage of the production of their products.
The devastation tobacco production causes ranges from deforestation (with over 600 million trees cut down annually), the use of banned toxic pesticides on tobacco plants and large quantities of chemical waste, making soil unsuitable for food production.
This is not to mention the billions of kilograms of carbon dioxide and methane released into the atmosphere through cigarette smoke, and the pollution of lakes, rivers and oceans with toxic chemicals through abandoned cigarette butts.
Big tobacco has not only caused damage to the environment; it has also used its vast wealth to manipulate developing nations by threatening legal action if they want to regulate the industry.
Recently, Togo, one of the poorest nations in the world, attempted to put health warnings on packs of cigarettes.
Despite being a measure that has been widely adopted by western nations, Philip Morris International, the company that sells Marlboro, threatened Togo with “an incalculable amount of international trade litigation” if they implemented these plans.
Togo was forced to back down, allowing the power of big tobacco to overrule the health of their citizens.
A company which sells such a harmful product should not be able to exert such influence on a sovereign state.
In addition, within its dark history, tobacco corporations have used advertising in unregulated markets to target teenagers and children, through glamorising cigarettes and use of brands such as the Marlboro cowboy, a figure long since banned in the UK and the United States.
Moreover, as recently as the 1990s, R J Reynolds, was caught out marketing to LGBTQ and homeless communities under a campaign known as Project SCUM.
This explicit contempt for the people they were trying to market products to was widely condemned, with the director of the Maunter Project for Lesbians with Cancer, saying: “This is a hate crime, plain and simple. What else do you call it when a group thinks of gays and lesbians as ‘scum’, and then targets us with something that kills?”
Once looking at the insurmountable evidence of tobacco companies’ destructive and manipulating behaviour, one can only come to the conclusion that such corporations should not be allowed to sell their products at a place which prides itself on its ethical policy and its tolerance of all people.
It is for these reasons why the Students’ Union should take a public stance against these conglomerates and stop selling tobacco in its outlets.
It is my strongly held view that companies that sell a product which kills half of its consumers should have no place on Union shelves.
Such a move would only be restricted to SU outlets, primarily the Union shop, and would not affect students who want to purchase tobacco, as they would still be able to buy cigarettes and other products from the Co-op.
Some people may argue that such an attitude could also be taken towards alcohol and unhealthy foods; however, there is a clear distinction between tobacco and these products.
Whilst the majority of drinkers can exert control over how much they consume, tobacco is inherently addictive.
As one Canadian tobacco executive admitted: “Smoking is not like drinking. It is rather like being an alcoholic”.
Our Students’ Union has already, through similar campaigns, banned the sale of Coca-Cola and Nestle products in its outlets on similar grounds.
If our Union is going to take such a stance on these companies, the same attitude should also be taken to big tobacco.
This is a debate that as a Union, we need to have and I would encourage people to sign the petition online to make this debate happen.