February 20th is World Day of Social Justice. The UN General Assembly recognizes that “social development and social justice are indispensable for the achievement and maintenance of peace and security within and among nations and that, in turn, social development and social justice cannot be attained in the absence of peace and security, or in the absence of respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
Tobacco violates the right to health of people all over the world, and is therefore a barrier to achieving social justice.
Tobacco is a social justice issue within the United States, where, for decades, African Americans have been targeted with advertisements for menthol cigarettes, and as a result, eighty five percent of African Americans who smoke use menthol cigarettes.
African Americans are also more likely to die from smoking-related diseases, in large part due to compounding social inequities such as lack of access to healthcare and racism in the healthcare system. ASH and our partners are working to correct this with our lawsuit against the FDA, and look forward to the forthcoming FDA rule banning menthol as a flavoring. It is an important step.
Globally, the tobacco industry targets lower income countries, and consequently over 80% of the world’s 1.3 billion tobacco users are now living in low- and middle-income countries.
Some high-income countries allow tobacco corporations to manufacture cigarettes that were deemed unsafe for the market in their countries and export them to other, usually lower income countries. An investigative report concluded, “the cigarettes produced on Swiss soil and sold in Morocco are much stronger, more addictive and more toxic than those sold in Switzerland or France.”
All of these burdens create a situation where the most vulnerable are left to deal with the consequences of tobacco use. ASH and many of our global tobacco control allies encourage full implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, as an important step in preventing this type of social injustice.
These are just two examples of many.
The tobacco industry frequently preys on vulnerable populations around the world. Commercial tobacco is also a barrier to social justice for women, the LGBTQ+ community, Indigenous People, people with lower income, and people with less education. Because of these barriers, progress for tobacco control is also progress towards social justice.
Join us as we work for both.
ASH staff and several partners have written an article for the BMJ Tobacco Control Journal on this topic that will be published in June 2022. Check back then to read more about how tobacco is a social justice issue and steps advocates can take to make progress for both social justice and tobacco control.