Marlboro maker Philip Morris made that clear the other day when it reported that international cigarette sales in the most recent quarter jumped 2.3 percent. They would have been even higher if shipments to Japan hadn't been interrupted by the West Coast port lockout.
Despite weakness in domestic smoke sales -- not to mention the ever-present threat of litigation -- tobacco stocks are surging once again after Philip Morris said robust overseas sales were a big factor in helping the company's profit nearly double.
You've got to hand it to Wall Street. An industry says it's succeeding wildly at poisoning customers worldwide, and investors say, "Gimme some of that action."
"Marlboro is the quintessential premium brand," Morgan Stanley analyst David Adelman told me. "Philip Morris is gaining ground in all markets where they operate."
Which is pretty much all of them. and if the company can't bring in U.S.-made smokes by the truckload, it looks at local production.
Earlier this month, Philip Morris became the first foreign tobacco company to begin cigarette output in South Korea, the eighth-largest cigarette market worldwide, where more than a quarter of the population is addicted to nicotine.
North Korean nukes? We'll show that pesky Kim Jong II how to really get people breathing hard on the Korean Peninsula.
Philip Morris also said that it's keen to purchase Serbia's largest tobacco plant when it gets privatized next year. The company should feel right at home in the Balkans, where killing off local residents has been something of a pastime for years.
I know I sound cranky on this issue. But it never ceases to amaze me how an industry that massacres its customers so freely -- 5 million deaths a year, according to the World Health Organization -- can profit so handsomely from trafficking in a deadly, highly addictive drug.
That profit, of course, translates into political muscle, which makes money-hungry government officials, especially in developing nations, complicit in the chemical enslavement and wholesale slaughter of their citizens.
"In all parts of the world except sub-Saharan Africa, where you have an AIDS epidemic, tobacco has surpassed infectious diseases as the leading cause of death," said Stan Glantz, professor of medicine at UCSF and a longtime anti-smoking crusader.
According to the WHO, more than 15 billion cigarettes are smoked worldwide every single day. In the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Germany and Russia, the average smoker consumes between 1500 and 2499 cigarettes annually.
Each Japanese smoker puffs down 2500 or more cigarettes a year. And the Chinese, not surprisingly for anyone who has ever visited that tobacco-happy country, account for about a third of all cigarettes consumed worldwide.
On the economic front, the WHO says smoking accounts for $76 billion of annual health care costs in the United States, $15 billion in Germany and $3.5 billion in China. Fires caused by smoking cause more thann $27 billion in damage every year worldwide and kill hundreds of thousands.
The United States is the largest exporter of cigarettes, accounting for almost 20 percent of the global total. Japan is the largest importer.
So am I advocating complete prohibition of tobacco? Much as I'd like that to be the case, I accept that people have a right to slowly kill themselves if that's their choice. (But they have to keep it to themselves -- no secondhand smoke, thank you very much.)
Governments, however, do not have to make this exercise in mass suicide so easy. New York was on the right track when it imposed a severe anti-tobacco tax this summer.
Statistics released last week show that the tax, which raised the city's levy on cigarette packs from 8 cents to $1.50, resulted in a 64 percent plunge in sales in September. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is now pressing ahead with even tougher smoking restrictions.
Shamefully, California lawmakers chickened out when it came to jacking up the price of smokes in this state. Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson, D-Los Angeles, had sought to raise the tax on cigarette to $3 a pack -- the highest in the nation.
"Either people quit smoking, which is good for everyone, or their habits help us balance our budget," he said.
Ultimately, though, politics (and industry lobbying) got in the way of this high-minded approach to both fiscal prudence and public health, and the tax measure was voted down.
Tobacco foes like Glantz took the outcome poorly. "Those tax increases would have created a lot of revenue and had a substantial impact on usage," he said.
"The governor and the Legislature are completely out of step with the public on this," Glanz added.
That would be the American public, which is gradually waking up to the dangers of tobacco. Domestic consumption of cigarettes has declined by 7.5 percent since 1998, according to the University of Tennessee's Agricultural Policy Analysis Center.
As for the rest of the world, America's message is this: Let 'em eat
The people who voted for President Bush's resolution, especially the Democrats, covered themselves in shame. They voted away their exclusive war powers to a president who this time -- and this is different from 1964 -- they know is going to use the resolution for war. They won't have the excuse this time that they were lied to, like Lyndon Johnson, who promised that he had no intention of going to war without coming back to Congress for a more specific resolution. Senator Robert Byrd, D-W.VA., said he has felt ashamed and guilty for 38 years for voting for the Tonkin Gulf resolution.
It was equally shameful that 75 senators went against Byrd and voted
to close off the debate on Iraq, even though they know in their hearts
that Byrd and Senator Edward Kennedy, D-Mass, and the others who voted
against it are right -- that going to war with Iraq increases our risks
of terrorism, strengthens al Qaeda's recruiting efforts and reduces the
ability of Muslim countries to cooperate with us against al Qaeda, even
if they wanted to.
What they are holding out is an image of empire that in this chaotic
world looks rather attractive to a lot of Americans. But the lesson of
September 11 is that it's going to be a very bloody business. That's
not to say anything in favor of the people or causes behind September
11. But the fact is, killing innocent civilians in a Muslim country is
going to lead to reaction that costs American lives as well. It's wrong
of us to even think about waging an aggresive war under these
The latest in a long line of anti-woman decisions by the Bush administration is, for once, getting some attention, in part because of the sheer cheapness of the move.
President Bush has decided not to send the $34 million approved by both houses of Congress for the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA). The fund provides contraception, family planning and safe births, and works against the spread of HIV and against female genital mutilation in the poorest countries of the world. Thirt-four million dollars goes a long way in the parts of the world where more than 600,000 women die every year from pregnancy and childbirth, many of them children themselves.
Of course, our poor governent is so broke it can't afford to waste $34 million on women in poor countries. It has more important things to do, like spending $100 million on "promoting marriage." (I'm in favor of recycling old Nike ads for this one: "Marriage: Just do it.")
Two women -- Jane Roberts, a retired teacher in California, and Lois Abraham, a lawyer in New Mexico -- have started a splendid symbolic protest, and it is spreading by email, fax, newsletters and women's groups. The organizers are looking for "3 million Friends of UNFPA" to send $1 each to the United Nations (FPA) at 220 East 42nd Street, New York, N.Y. 10017.
Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, director of the UNFPA, said the $34 million U.S. contribution would have helped prevent 2 million unwanted pregnancies, 800,000 induced abortions, 4700 maternal deaths, and 77,000 infant and child deaths. We don't have $34 million to save the lives of poor women, but President Bush want to spend $135 million on abstinence education, which doesn't work worth a damn.
Sex education is what works. The Guttmacher Institute published a report last week showing that the abortion rate is down by 11 percent in this country precisely because young people are now getting more education about sex. One would think the anti-abortion forces would be grateful.
Instead, there is every indication that in addition to taking away a women's right to choose whether to have an abortion, the Bush administration is going after contraception, too. He wants to make W. David Hager chairman of the Food and Drug Administration's panel on women's health policy. Hager is an obstetrician from Kentucky who wants the FDA to reverse its approval of RU-486, the so-called "abortion pill."
He does not prescribe contraceptives for single women, does not do abortions, will not prescribe RU-486 and will not insert IUDs. Hager also believes headaches, PMS and eating disorders can be cured by reading Scripture. I do not want this man in charge of my health policy.
It took almost all of human history for the population of the globe to reach 1 billion in people in 1800. It took only from 1987 to 1999 for world population to grow from 5 billion to 6 billion. At current rates, we will reach 13 billion by the middle of the 21st century. Ninety-five percent of this growth will be in Africa, Latin America and Asia.
Studies estimate that by 2025, 2 out of every 3 people on Earth will
live in water-stressed conditions. The stress on global resources is
already apparent. The National Wildlife Federation points to severe
deforestation, habitat fragmentation, species extinction, water
scarcity, climate change, loss of biodiversity and pollution. Eighty
percent of the original forest is gone or degraded. The grim toll on
the Earth's resources goes on and on.
San Francisco Chronicle
23 October 2002