Thursday, June 23, 2011

Watch out Colombia's Hearts and Lungs: B.A.T. is back!

Cigarettes (and candies) for sale under glass. This guy sells loose cigarettes, maximizing access for kids. 
British American Tobacco recently announced plans to buy Protobaco, giving it almost half of Colombia's cigarette market. (Philip Morris controls the other half.)

Smokes and sweets: Cigarettes and
candies sold side by side on a
Business news reporters have celebrated the deal, giving BAT admiring and unquestioning coverage, including this article about BAT's supposed plans to grow 'organic coffee' and this interview in which a BAT official criticizes high taxes, because they 'promote contraband.'

Of course, few products are less 'organic' than tobacco, which uses soil, water and fertilizer, but feeds nobody, and pollutes the air when it's consumed. And, according to investigative reports, here and here BAT and Philip Morris encouraged cigarette smuggling in order to avoid taxes - and put cheaper smokes in Colombian stores and streets. According to this testimony in the U.K. Parliament, big tobacco also collaborated with Colombia's outlaw terror groups, helping them launder profits by smuggling in cigarettes.

A young man smokes
near the University del Rosario. 
Colombia's governors even sued BAT and Philip Morris for their alleged promotion of smuggling. U.S. courts initially ruled against the suit - but not because the smuggling didn't happen, just because of tax law rules. Philip Morris eventually reached a settlement. I'm not sure about BAT. But smuggling apparently continues: I often see cigarette packs lacking the required health warnings. How did they get here?

Green brand cigarettes, a Philip Morris product, appeal to young men using rebellion and romance.  I still see sexy young women handing out free samples to young people near universities - without bothering to check recipients' ages. 
It's sad that these journalists didn't call BAT on these issues, when the company has behaved so unethically in its efforts to push a habit which kills 68 Colombians per day and is particularly popular among young people.

Colombia recently required
graphic warnings on cigarette packs. 
Fortunately, Colombia has been making some efforts to discourage smoking, including placing graphic warnings on packages, passing laws against indoor smoking and restricting advertising. In July, the sale of individual cigarettes will be prohibited - but enforcing it will be another matter. A loose cigarette costs a few hundred pesos - about 15 to 25 cents - well within the purchasing power of a high school student with change in his or her pocket.

"Live your dreams." A bus stop poster for Mustang cigarettes does its best to associate smoking with sports. 
In a supermarket, a Mustang ad uses sexy cheerleaders. 
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

No comments: