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“It used to be a cornerstone of American life; it was how we knew sex was over before the female orgasm was invented. Even if you didn’t smoke, you could not escape those who did!” says John Oliver on Last Week Tonight. As Oliver points out, smoking was so ubiquitous in the past, particularly in the 1960’s, that it was even in cartoons for children.

John Oliver has started a war against tobacco companies with #JeffWeCan for the absolutely ridiculous burden these companies are putting on countries. Let’s talk about the undeniable health dangers of smoking that make this fight important.

Smoking is still the leading preventable cause of death in the United States with one in five deaths caused by smoking. That’s more deaths than illegal drugs, alcohol, and driving combined. This is because 90% of lung cancer deaths are due to smoking. A general rule of thumb is that smoking pretty much causes cancer everywhere in your body, even in the mouth! Oral cancer is one of the devastating results of smoking. This includes cancer of the mouth, lips, tongue and throat. Oral cancer kills about one person every hour and 90% of the cause is attributed to tobacco.

Here, in America, we’ve banned smoking ads, added warning labels to cigarette boxes, and protected the public with limited smoking areas, subsequently reducing smoking rates from almost half the US population in 1965 to 18% . However, tobacco companies are earning more than they ever have, banking on human lives around the world. Remember the viral video of the two-year-old baby boy from Indonesia smoking away? He is addicted, and so are two-thirds of adult males in that country. Yet, we allow Marlboro advertisements to continue. “Don’t be a Maybe, be a Marlboro,” says tobacco company Philip Morris with their latest campaign.

And what happens when countries with public health concerns try to protect their citizens through legal actions? When Australia passed the plain-packaging-law in 2011, replacing ads with gruesome reality of health effects, Philip Morris sued the Australian government, saying that “standardized packaging is a euphemism for government-mandated destruction of property. It is unlawful, disproportionate, and at odds with the most basic requirements of the rule of law.” Fortunately, the law passed because of significant evidence of public health benefits.

 Replacing ads with images depicting tobacco’s damage to health

Image Source: 1001gece

What about countries who cannot afford that sort of legal cost? Uruguay has a population of 3.5 million and a small cigarette market has been sued by Philip Morris for over five years because of health awareness campaigns. One of the poorest countries with a Gross Domestic Product of 4.3 billion is getting sued by the $18 billion dollar multinational Philip Morris for attempting to enact plain-packaging-laws.

The solution is definitely not to point fingers at individuals that fall into the trap of systemic and structural failures. The bigger problem is a powerful industry that relentlessly profits off addiction and misinformation. There needs to be finances and policies set aside to ensure tobacco farmers abroad are trained with alternative profit yielding goods. Let’s dig Philip Morris and other cigarette companies a grave and make the horrific crime they’ve committed to the human race another notorious chapter in world history.

Feature Image Source: Learning about Marlboro’s new diseased lung logo by Buster Benson

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