I smoked for over 20 years, and I enjoyed it for most of those two decades. Neither potential health issues nor the increasing cost of cigarettes could budge me from my god given right to screw myself up. That was before I admitted to myself that all my addiction was accomplishing was the enrichment of a few immoral bastards. Consumed with righteous anger I went cold turkey earlier this year, going from a 40 a day habit to jogging five kilometres per day without vomiting. This is my story …
A relatively late convert to the gentle art of puffing, I nonetheless started off with the heavy hitters, and over the years progressed to lighter and lighter cigarettes as my ageing lungs couldn’t keep up with the amount of toxins I was sucking down them. Self delusion number one – if you drink two cups of rat poison per day and fall ill as a consequence, do you then scale down to one cup of rat poison per day? That’s the paradox of nicotine addiction. Otherwise intelligent individuals will come up with a myriad of rationalisations why they continue to smoke.
My favourite personal rationalisation was the ‘libertarian’ argument. I would not be dictated to by a nanny state or a bunch of anal retentive health nazis. Well, I still think that a nanny state is a bad idea, especially in a country like South Africa where there are much more fundamental issues which require urgent attention. As for the health nazis, most of them are not nearly as fit or healthy as they think they are. My finely tuned smoker’s anti-criticism radar exposed a lot of anti-smokers over the years as face stuffing couch potatoes or inveterate boozers. Not that there is anything wrong with being an inveterate boozer. My mockery of the anti-smoking brigade was made easier by the fact that I kept exercising regularly over the years and could probably out run most non-smokers.
Then there was the idealised pseudo-psychological attraction of a smoker’s insouciant nihilism. Smokers just seemed more interesting, with a better sense of humour than non-smokers, probably due to the daily criticism they have to endure. Just look at the smoking divide among actors. On the smoking side we have Humphrey Bogart, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Johnny Depp, Robert Downey Jr and Charlie Sheen who all are or were long term smokers. On the non-smoking side, everyone’s favourite Scientologist, Tom Cruise. ‘Nuff said. There was something louche and conspiratorial about having to lurk in shadowy smoking areas for that much craved puff with my fellow smokers. I suppose it is human nature to revel in an ‘us and them’ dichotomy.
But, all parties come to an end. The health alarm to my smoking habit was first tripped by an increasingly tight chest when I tried exercising harder. Not enough to make me quit, but admittedly enough to ignite a little bit of worry at the back of my head. Cigarettes were for the first time starting to impact on the quality of my life.
The clincher however was good old filthy lucre and realising that I was being taken for a fool by both the government and big business. After the previous annual increase in tobacco excise tax I decided to do a bit of research into where all the money was going. All the more relevant when you consider the South African government’s novel approach to good fiscal governance. More than R11 billion in tobacco excise revenue was collected by the South African Revenue Service in 2012. Enough to build a Nkandla in every town and finance a New Age newspaper for every district. So there was reason number one to quit immediately. As it were I have already been indecently assaulted enough times by the thieving clowns in government via the income tax instrument.
Reason number two requires a bit of background.
The World Health Organisation estimates that tobacco related illnesses kill more people every year than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. In effect tobacco related illnesses have become the greatest health threat faced by mankind today. Despite those harrowing statistics, tobacco conglomerates are some of the world’s largest and most profitable companies.
British American Tobacco plc (BAT), the world’s 2nd largest tobacco company (aka the world’s 2nd largest nicotine delivery system manufacturer) generated £15.190 billion in revenue in 2012. That’s more than the GDP of Cyprus, Estonia or Iceland. It is the 6th largest company listed on the London Stock Exchange, with a current market capitalisation of £63.2 billion.
Not content with being notorious for mere tobacco sales, BAT has been embroiled in controversy on several fronts.
In 2000 a consortium of investigative journalists exposed BAT’s support for cigarette smuggling and tax evasion in order to boost sales and create new smokers. Black market cigarette smugglers are usually also involved with human trafficking as well as drug and weapons smuggling. Birds of a feather ….
In 2001 BAT invested $7.1 million in North Korean cigarette production. A fact that was never mentioned in company reports until exposed by The Guardian newspaper four years after BAT started operating a factory in North Korea. I would also hide the fact that I was doing business with a regime that is one of the world’s worst human rights abusers.
BAT has been accused of targeting youth in developing countries, especially in Africa, where it is easy to dupe youngsters due to their relative low awareness of the health risks. Easy pickings for a cynical company, although a Nigerian government lawsuit for $42.4 billion filed in 2007 may put a slight dent in profits.
BAT has spent millions of pounds funding controversial research in order to prove that some people are genetically predisposed to lung cancer in an effort to divert attention away from millions of smoke related deaths every year. Keep in mind that all major tobacco companies have been aware of research indicating a link between lung cancer and smoking since the 1950s. Despite that knowledge huge profits were and are still made out of the death and suffering of millions.
Bringing the disgust closer to home we have to take a look at South Africa’s Rupert family. A family with a long history of involvement in the tobacco industry, which was the original source of their wealth and still contributes massively towards it, although in a less overt manner.
BAT shares form 82.5% of Johann Rupert’s investment vehicle, Reinet, in which he is the majority shareholder. And of course Reinet is situated in Luxembourg, the well known tax haven. The company made €375 million profit in 2012, mostly out of its shares in tobacco giant, BAT. At the same time smoking related illnesses killed more than 50,000 South Africans. So not only does the wealthiest family in South Africa (Forbes, 2013) generate huge profits from the tobacco industry, they also avoid paying taxes on those tainted gains. Taxes which could have alleviated the condition of thousands of smoking related illness sufferers.
So how did I quit smoking?
I pinned a photo of a grinning Johann Rupert to my living room dartboard.