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Tobacco and Its Brief History and Its Significance Throughout the History in Economy and Commodity

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Tobacco use is determined and influenced by several kinds of factors: (1) individual factors (perceptions, self-image, peers); (2) social factors (societal norms); (3) environmental factors, such as advertising and economics; and (4) cultural factors, such as traditional uses of tobacco, acculturation, and the historical context of the tobacco industry in various communities. Behavior and patterns of tobacco use result from each of these factors and from their complex interplay, which is difficult to study and measure.

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Each side in the debate about tobacco control—the tobacco industry and the public health community—wields a seemingly powerful set of economic arguments, the industry claiming that economic considerations urge a “go slow” approach to tobacco control, the public health community insisting they recommend an aggressive stance. Each of the most prominent arguments presented by both sides has a kernel of truth to it; yet each, in its own way, represents only a half truth. The industry uses its economic appeal with full knowledge of and intent to exploit its ability to deceive and mislead policy makers and the public. In contrast, tobacco control advocates frequently employ their economic rationale without full appreciation of its limitations. To inform both tobacco control advocates and policy makers more fully, this paper identifies the principal economic myths concerning tobacco and discusses their realities. The myths are associated with their purveyors by initials: TI for Tobacco Industry myths, and TC for myths perpetuated by the Tobacco Control community. This is the tobacco industry's favourite economic myth. Conveyed to legislators and cabinet ministers (and journalists), its intent is to encourage the development of an indigenous tobacco industry within a given country, or to discourage the adoption of tobacco control policies likely to decrease tobacco product consumption. The half truth in this myth resides in the fact that tobacco farming and product manufacture, distribution, and sale do constitute significant economic activities in many economies, and in the world as a whole. Globally, according to tobacco industry estimates, 33 million people farm tobacco, albeit many of them part time and most in addition to other crops. Approximately half that number work in tobacco product manufacture, distribution, and retailing. In addition, another 10 million or so are employed in supplier industries providing materials and services to the tobacco industry (for example, harvesting tools and cigarette papers, insurance coverage, and transportation and shipping). Excise (and other) tobacco taxation generates many tens of billions of dollars annually. Individual countries' tobacco economies vary greatly. Nearly half of the world's tobacco farmers (an estimated 15 million) live in China, the world's largest producer and consumer of tobacco; 3.5 million reside in India. Other countries exhibit substantial tobacco sectors as well, including Zimbabwe, Indonesia, Turkey, Bangladesh, Egypt, the Philippines, and Thailand

These countries are the exceptions to the rule, however. Tobacco farming constitutes a modest source of employment in most countries and tobacco manufacturing employment constitutes well under 1% of total manufacturing employment in most countries. Several countries derive 10% or more of total government revenues from tobacco taxation. However, in most countries, tobacco taxes generate only a few percent of total revenues.

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Confronted by compelling peer-reviewed scientific evidence of the harms of smoking, the tobacco industry, beginning in the 1950s, used sophisticated public relations approaches to undermine and distort the emerging science. The industry campaign worked to create a scientific controversy through a program that depended on the creation of industry–academic conflicts of interest. This strategy of producing scientific uncertainty undercut public health efforts and regulatory interventions designed to reduce the harms of smoking. A number of industries have subsequently followed this approach to disrupting normative science. Claims of scientific uncertainty and lack of proof also lead to the assertion of individual responsibility for industrially produced health risks.By late 1953, the tobacco industry faced a crisis of cataclysmic proportions. Smoking had been categorically linked to the dramatic rise of lung cancer. Although health concerns about smoking had been raised for decades, by the early 1950s there was a powerful expansion and consolidation of scientific methods and findings that demonstrated that smoking caused lung disease as well as other serious respiratory and cardiac diseases, leading to death. These findings appeared in major, peer-reviewed medical journals as well as throughout the general media (Proctor RN, 2008)

As a result, the tobacco industry would launch a new strategy, largely unprecedented in the history of US industry and business: it would work to erode, confuse, and condemn the very science that now threatened to destroy its prized, highly popular, and exclusive product. But this would be no simple matter. After all, in the immediate postwar years—the dawn of the nuclear age—science was in high esteem. The industry could not denigrate the scientific enterprise and still maintain its public credibility, so crucial to its success. The tobacco industry already had a long history of innovative advertising, marketing, and public relations that had centered on making smoking universal. Starting in the late 19th century, the industry transformed itself to become a model of modern industrial organization and consumer marketing. The industry took a product that had existed at the cultural periphery and remade it into one of the most popular, successful, and widely used items of the early 20th century (Michaels D., 2008). The basic tenet of the highly articulated public relations approach the companies deployed centered on the notion that if the current cultural context was inhospitable to the product, one could—through shrewd and creative public relations interventions—change the culture to fit the product.

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Generally speaking, there are enormous differences in the application and economic measurement of smoking cessation measures across various types of interventions, methodologies, countries, economic settings, and health care systems, and these may have affected the comparability of the results of the studies reviewed. However, on the balance of probabilities, most of the cessation measures reviewed have not only proved effective but also cost effective in delivering the much-desired cost savings and net gains to individuals and primary health care providers.

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Proctor RN, Schiebinger L. Agnotology: The Making & Unmaking of Ignorance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press; 2008

Oreskes N, Conway E. Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues From Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Press; 2010

Michaels D. Doubt Is Their Product: How Industry's Assault on Science Threatens Your Health. New York, NY: Oxford University Press; 2008

Swann JP. Academic Scientists and the Pharmaceutical Industry: Cooperative Research in Twentieth-Century America. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press; 1988

Servos J. The industrial relations of science: chemical engineering at MIT, 1900–1939. Isis. 1980

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