Big tobacco has surprising friends

At the 16th World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Abu Dhabi last week, the latest grim statistics shocked even veteran anti-smoking advocates.

In spite of the growing number of nations that have banned smoking in public places and have prohibited or restricted cigarette advertising and marketing, the annual death toll from cigarette smoking keeps rising. A mind-

boggling 6.2 million people will die in 2015 from the ravages of smoking, including more than 480,000 in the U.S., where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in five deaths in the U.S. — and fully a third of all deaths from cancer — is caused by cigarette smoking.

Over the 50 years since the publication of the landmark Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health, the percentage of adults who smoke has been cut in half in the U.S. to less than 20 percent. But the actual number of smokers is almost the same, and the decline in smoking in the crucial 18 to 34-year-old age group — the lifeblood of Big Tobacco — has stalled. Ominously, too, smoking is on the rise in many countries.

The assumption of the more than 2000 public health professionals from over 100 countries at the conference is that the tobacco industry is the villain, wielding enormous economic and political clout.

But it’s not just the cigarette companies who benefit from smoking. Without its business allies, the tobacco industry couldn’t exist. These include retailers such as the major chain supermarkets, drugstores, and convenience stores. Then there are the suppliers of packaging, chemicals, paper and the very machines used to manufacture cigarettes.

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