When will the Church comment on the evils of Big Tobacco?
There’s a new cigarette on it’s way, one which Philip Morris, the world’s largest producer of cigarette products, hopes will meet the changing cultural and social needs of today’s smokers. The soon-to-be-launched “Marlboro Intense” will allow smokers to cope with indoor smoking bans by taking quick, deep puffs of a shorter but more potent cigarette during a quick outdoor break.
It’s an insidiously brilliant idea—and one that has global human implications to which the Catholic Church must pay attention.
Philip Morris USA and Philip Morris International will become two separate companies, parent company, Altria, announced this week. By doing this, Philip Morris International will be outside of the reach of most all regulatory efforts and threats of legal liability. Even after this split from the US market, PMI will be the third most profitable consumer goods concern in the world—and will have worldwide autonomy to create products that kill.
The Marlboro Intense, and new innovative clove-infused cigarettes will suit the taste of smokers in Southeastern Asia. PMI will also be making major forays into Latin American markets, introducing millions of struggling people in developing nations to this addictive, and deadly, habit.
Cigarettes are the only product that, when used as intended, are deadly. If the number of cigarette-related deaths worldwide so far are any indication, this week’s announcements mean hundreds of millions of new cigarette addicts and the inevitable surge in the full spectrum of devastating cigarette-related diseases. Not only will the increase in smoking lead to soaring numbers of premature deaths, but the economies of these countries will suffer devastating losses due to the loss of large portions of their workforce and the extraordinary costs of smoking related medical care.
After years of litigation in the United States and billions of dollars in settlements paid by the tobacco industry over their products, where is the outrage at this brazen campaign that will cause the deaths of millions of people in the next decades?
Where, for example, is the voice of the Roman Catholic Church which is apparently so committed to a “pro-life” position? Why are they not deeply concerned about the lives of the millions who will soon die from this now intensified Philip Morris sales blitz? Millions of Catholics live in these countries soon-to-be targeted by Philip Morris. Many of those who will be affected by PMI’s new strategy are vulnerable populations living in developing countries. The Church is often among the first to take a stand on issues of human rights and social and economic justice—it has even
taken a stand and spoken out about environmental issues and the supposed threats of global warming—but it is silent on the dangers of cigarettes, which are killing millions worldwide each year right now. Issues of social justice are constantly changing. It’s time the Church sits up and pays attention to this worldwide disaster.
At various times, a few bishops and priests around the world have made statements on the evils of smoking but the hierarchy has been largely
mute on the subject, more concerned with the abuse of alcohol and drugs than smoking. Of course the tobacco folks had a real scare back in l957 when Pope Pius XII suggested that the Jesuit order give up smoking. There were only 33,000 Jesuits in the world at that point, so the Industry was not afraid of losing lots of priest-customers. But they did worry that the Pope might eventually ask the question, as a Time magazine headline once put it: “When is a Cig a Sin?”—and worse yet that the answer might be “always.”
So the spin doctors in the Industry worked on the Pope’s Jesuit statement and came up with this: You see, an industry rep wrote in the United States Tobacco Journal, “the Jesuits have a way of life that is traditionally stricter than other segments of the clergy or laity in general.” What the Pope was REALLY saying was that cigarette smoke is good fun and pleasurable and the only reason Jesuits should not smoke is that they are supposed to reject human gratification. Thus smoking is fine for everyone else!
Clearly there would be an impact if the Church decided to take a stand on the insidious practices of an industry whose business plan is to make it easier to turn their consumers into addicts.
Getting Away With Murder
Some 20 years ago, while preparing a book on the history of the cigarette in America (A Smoking Gun: How the Tobacco Industry Gets Away With Murder), I wrote to the then Archbishop of New York and asked him why the Church had no pronouncements on cigarettes, the leading cause of premature death—a clear threat to the value of life. The letter I received back was scathing, arguing that I had obviously not traveled outside the U.S. much and seen poverty and hunger—or otherwise I would not be worrying about something so trivial as cigarette smoking.
As a public health professional, I do not consider 485,000 premature deaths annually in the United States to be “trivial.” And I am outraged to see the ongoing marketing of cigarettes here in our country. But this week’s move by Philip Morris to go on a worldwide campaign to sell these new “sexy” types of cigarettes—to newly addict hundreds of millions more people in Africa, China, Korea, Russia and beyond—is nothing short of appalling.
As this massacre continues internationally—indeed it is intensifying—as the Industry’s plans to create more addicts continue to be made public and the number of deaths continues to rise is silence by the Church truly compatible with a pro-life commitment?