In the United States, a series of devastating lawsuits, smoking bans, public relations blunders, and aggressive campaigns to educate the citizenry have left the tobacco industry gasping for air. So, dead set on maintaining profit margins, Big Tobacco has “moved production and marketing efforts overseas,” according to In These Times (Oct. 2007), “causing experts to predict that by 2010, 87 percent of the world’s tobacco will be grown in the developing world.” In China, for example, some 350 million people smoke, making the United States’ 45 million smokers seem like chump change. What’s more, as Science & Spirit (July-Aug. 2007) notes, antismoking efforts in the world’s most populous country are relatively weak: Even the health minister has been known to enjoy a good smoke in public, which goes a long way toward explaining why a third of Chinese men under the age of 29 are likely to die from a tobacco-related illness. Industry workers, especially in the developing world, will face routine risks, such as exposure to toxic pesticides that keep the weak plant growing and “green tobacco sickness,” which is caused by handling wet leaves. Cigarette production bums off the environment, too. Massive quantities of pesticides contaminate water resources, and the curing process gobbles up some 600 million trees a year.
illustration by Jason Greenberg