The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog

Breaking the Habit (II): Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

Posted in Health and Human Security by NTSblog on August 10, 2012

Both the dilemma and the solution for lifestyle-related illnesses lie on political will and priorities. The tobacco industry can get smoke in the government’s eyes as it dangles a superficial economic boost – but at a high cost for the health of generations of its populace. The World Health Organization (WHO) warns about the tobacco industry’s interference in governments’ attempts at tobacco control, including: ‘exaggerating the economic importance of the industry’ and intimidating and threatening governments with lawsuits. Governments must stop being misled by the perceived economic potential of the tobacco industry.

Cradling the tobacco industry puts both the smoker and non-smoker’s health at risk. If multinational tobacco companies pour in foreign investments in a country and generate domestic employment and tax revenue, governments irrationally prioritize misperceived economic growth in the short term over public health concerns. Governments should recognize the high costs of health care for long-term tobacco-related illnesses to generations of their population and devise sustainable strategies for effective tobacco control. By implementing these policies, governments can help ensure that the expenses for cigarettes and for related health services needed to treat diseases attributed to a lifestyle that embraces smoking will flow instead to feed hungry mouths, ensure safe drinking water, send children to school or provide basic health care. Disturbingly, the poor smokes more, with 80 percent of the world’s one billion smokers coming from low- and middle-income countries where the lack of awareness of the dangers of smoking and from easy access to cheap cigarettes is often prevalent.

The effectiveness of tobacco control initiatives to increase health security is highly dependent on the political will of national and local governments to strictly implement tobacco control policies that will essentially hurt the tobacco industry- from the tobacco farmers to manufacturers, to distributors and importers of tobacco products, to the tobacco advertising industry, down to the public relations and legal firms that consider big tobacco a cash cow industry. Effective tobacco control is also dependent on civil society and the private sector to engage in productive partnerships with government to promote awareness of the dangers of tobacco use and consumption. The task does not stop there, strictly implementing and monitoring tobacco control policies will eventually enable every individual’s right to breathe clean air- one unpolluted by toxic chemicals dangerously packed in one cigarette.

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