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#SmokeThis: Stick two fingers up to tobacco

Teresa takes a stand on the tobacco industry - and explains why you should too.

Smoking is bad for you. There are no two ways about it. We’ve known this as a fact for the last 50 years and, in recent decades, governments, organisations and individuals have campaigned to raise awareness of this.

Yet somehow in all that time, the focus has fallen on just the smokers and the cigarettes, while the real villain – the tobacco industry peddling these deadly products - has largely escaped attention.

A new campaign from our friends at Cancer Research UK (CRUK) is aiming to put that right. Over the past few years, a lot of people my age (26) and younger have been active in opposing social injustices. We’ve stood up to the government on tuition fees. We’ve reserved our right to protest on the streets. We’ve helped expose the immoral practices of big businesses through groups like UK Uncut.

Our message is clear – we aren’t naïve and we aren’t about to be fooled. We’re the generation of Facebook, Twitter, iEverything – we’re connected and we’re ready to go live. Next on the list of villainous, morally bankrupt trades, is the tobacco industry.

CRUK wants to empower young people to stand up to them and say 'no'! The tobacco industry makes more money every year than Coca-Cola, McDonalds, and Microsoft combined, yet every year it thinks of new ways to raise its profits.

It does this by using children to make its cigarettes. It does this at the expense of our environment. It does this at the expense of people’s lives.

Every year, 100,000 people die from smoking-related diseases in the UK – to them that means 100,000 less people buying tobacco products. “Fee-fi-fo-fum” growl the giants - they don’t want profits to drop and they’ll grind our bones to make their bread.

It’s estimated that every day almost 600 children in the UK take up smoking – that’s 200,000 children a year! Leaked tobacco industry documents have shown that tobacco companies have designed packaging specifically to target young people, and there is strong evidence showing it works. Well, not for much longer.

Plain packaging – strip the style

Earlier this year, campaigning from anti-smoking groups, including CRUK and the BLF, finally managed to push through standardised “plain” packaging for all tobacco products. That means that all packets will have the same standard design.

No longer will tobacco companies be able to make their packets sexier and more appealing by creating jazzy logos or cool packaging.

They’re afraid now and that’s when things get really ugly. Tobacco giants like Japan Tobacco International (JTI) have been closing factories and making hundreds of people redundant. Who do they blame? The very groups who have campaigned relentlessly to bring in this new, and quite evidently, necessary law.

Perhaps they’ve misunderstood the measure? Perhaps they think ‘plain’ packs = no packs at all. Not likely. Surely the real reason factories are closing is because they think the packs can be made cheaper elsewhere? And we know how much tobacco companies love their profits.

Want to know the real reason they’re blaming the law? They’re scared that they won’t be able to recruit new smokers, to make up for the ones their products have killed, without their fancy packaging.

Child tobacco workers

And it’s not just the young people smoking their cigarettes that are affected. At least 10 major tobacco companies in the US use children to harvest tobacco crops.

A report by Human Rights Watch found that children as young 12 were working tobacco fields for 72 hours a week. While they work, the children absorb nicotine through their skin, which makes them seriously ill - not to mention the heavy machinery and dangerous tools they are expected to work with without any protection.

Take a stand

For the past few years, the industry has tried to rebuild their image – they want us to forget the last 50 years in which it continually lied to us about its products.

They want us to forget how they’ve denied smoking tobacco can cause cancer, how they’ve skirted questions about whether nicotine was addictive, how they use children to boost their profits.

The tobacco industry wants you to think they’re on the side of the people. But do they care about us…? It’s time we let them know we don’t care about them.

Today, thousands of young people nationwide are taking a stand against big tobacco. This could finally be the generation that says enough is enough, and sticks two fingers up to tobacco. Give them two fingers today and tell them to #SmokeThis so that they know they’re not fooling you.

Find out more and get involved with Cancer Research UK's #SmokeThis campaign.

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12 November 2014