Does the death of thousands justify corporate profits? A letter to the tobacco industry regarding the impact of their product.

Would you forgive a father who was embarrassed of his own son? Your path for enlightenment is now darkened by a shadow of a man you once looked up to. Photo Credit: Gabi Fernandez

Dear big tobacco,

Does earning millions of dollars from feeding a dirty addiction justify the fact that 480,000 people fall victim to three inches of toxicity each year? You are responsible for the lung cancer and emphysema that could one day infect the very people that treat your diseases, fix your cars, and bring joy to your life. Friends, family, and children down the street are not replaceable.


In 2012, the combined profits of your five leading tobacco companies (China National Tobacco, Philip Morris International, Japan Tobacco International, British American Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco Group) measured up to a massive payout of $35.1 billion, but how do you value a lifetime of turmoil and distress?

Illustration: Vinh Tran

For example, my father has been smoking for over 20 years. As a Vietnamese student, my language associates the word “thuoc” to mean both tobacco and medicine. This oxymoron poisoned my early childhood; rather than benefiting the body, cigarettes transformed the very thought of my happiness into burning embers.

To fan the flames, in your advertisements, you depict smoking as a bonding experience. Cigarettes actually do build a bond—a man and his cigar are inseparable even when dragged into the grave.

Your cigarettes contaminate the lives we cherish. According to the Mental Health Foundation, it only takes 10 seconds for nicotine to spark a life changing addiction. Once a smoker is hooked, they become completely dependent on cigarettes. They took the bait, and your corporations benefit from their suffering.

Out of all the causes of death in the U.S., smoking is the most preventable. Thousands of lives could have been spared if you stopped and thought that maybe your decisions are morally reprehensible. In your very hands, you hold the lives of the entire population—yet your actions show that you would trade the lives of men, women and children for money.

Almost 500,000 acres are destroyed by your tobacco farming—land that could feed 10-20 million people. For your employees, there are over 6,800 different jobs in agriculture and I’m sure they’ll be much happier if they didn’t help kill hundreds of people a day. Not only do you keep a vast amount of land hostage, the planet’s ecosystem is deteriorating by the minute. With the loss of food that could save millions and a planet falling apart, who’s addiction will you exploit now?

The fact that you’re a multi-million dollar industry means nothing to the lives you put at risk every time anyone buys a pack of cigarettes. Any view I have ever had on the positivity of the world is clouded by your incompetence and greed.

The last thought I have to share is this: How could you still have a heart when you’ve broken the ones of millions of families?

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Vinh Tran