Cigarettes, cars, and public health

Why should only cars be blamed for causing cancer? There should be health norms for cigarettes, too

Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

Should cigarettes have a low or high tar certification? Should the court be approached to force cigarette companies to make safer cigarettes for the general public? There are reasons for asking these questions. The Supreme Court has given top priority to health while ordering car manufacturers to observe emission norms in Delhi. But nowhere in the world has any court forced tobacco companies to manufacture safer cigarettes, though smoking is a significant health risk.

What very few people know, including smokers, is that the technology to produce safer cigarettes exists. A report prepared by the uk -based anti-smoking lobby group Action on Smoking and Health and the Imperial Cancer Research Fund revealed that the international tobacco industry has accumulated about 58 patents for techniques to bring down the level of toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke. More interestingly, not a single one has been implemented (see ' Smokers be dammed ', p15).

What is it that makes the tobacco industry so obstinate while the car industry is still manageable when it comes to health issues? There are two clear differences. Though the car industry recognises the health threat posed by motor emissions, the tobacco giants are yet to accept that smoking causes cancer. And while there seems to be nothing particularly striking in the relationship between the car industry and governments, the tobacco industry's relations with governments have always raised eyebrows.

Take the example of usa . Operating under the authority of Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act, the us Trade Representative had threatened to impose trade sanctions against countries that denied us tobacco companies market access. The us pried open the markets of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand with these threats. Even developing countries have been lured by the excise revenues that accrue from cigarette sales. While cigarette sales have been declining in the developed countries, they have been rising alarmingly in developing countries. Will the cigarette industry manufacture show the way and manufacture safer cigarettes on the lines of technologies that it already possesses?

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