The fact that smoking tobacco isn’t vegan won’t be news to some, but learning that smoking ‘natural’, not tested on animals tobacco still isn’t vegan might come as a surprise. Below I will briefly illustrate why tobacco is also not feminist, environmentalist, humanitarian, or in line with any other form of social or planetary activism. The approach will be intersectional and hopefully empower you to find the angle that will end your relationship with tobacco products. If you already have a distaste for tobacco then it should strengthen your ability to confront the topic and help bring about its end.
A few words to the smokers before we get into it: To work for change while smoking does not make you a hypocrite or negate your actions. Nothing written here is intended to point a finger or call someone out. It is to highlight that using tobacco is self-defeating in ways you might not have known about. Also, supporting the companies selling it is one of the most pro-violence and exploitative actions you can do, wittingly or unwittingly. Big Tobacco is patriarchal capitalism incarnate.
If you smoke and you wish to quit, remember to be kind to yourself. Know that you were bilked into smoking. The companies have socially engineered a culture that makes it very difficult to quit. Not to mention the chemical engineering that makes a conventional cigarette addictive after the second inhale! It is not your fault that you smoke but it requires your best efforts to quit (and stop ‘them’ from hurting another person). So take this information, bolster yourself, and make the changes you need to defeat one of the worst industries ever created by humans.
~A NOTE OF OPTIMISM: IF THE REDUCTION OF SMOKING CONTINUES AT ITS CURRENT RATE IN THE US, THE YOUNGEST GENERATION ALIVE MAY BE THE LAST TO SMOKE! https://www.thetruth.com/about-truth
Consuming tobacco is and always will be one of the most capitalistic, anti-human, baseless actions we commit against nature and ourselves. It should be considered a crime against humanity and done away with. Done away with not by the hands of law (though they must assist) but out of moral regard and intelligence. We, you and I, have the ability to do this!
Why though? Haven’t humans been at this a long time? Didn’t Native Americans smoke? If I am buying natural tobacco, even if the company has a sordid past, isn’t it ok now? Yes, some, and no.
Of the consumer products in the world under debate, tobacco sits safely at the top of the list with no justifiable reason for it to still exist. I am aware there are chemicals that would also be at the top of the list. Interestingly some of those same chemicals find their way into tobacco products, helping tobacco reign supreme.
Most consumer products have a debatable value. Keeping it on topic, take meat and dairy for example. Do we need it? Not any more. Did we ever? Yes. Is there any value to it? Yes, through human history, and currently for a few people with extreme health complications. How about MDMA and many other party drugs?* At present they are doing more harm than good (for similar reasons to those listed here about tobacco) but with medical potential, if properly handled. How about guns? Since we’re a historically violent species, guns were a logical development within that framework. Even if dominance was at the center of their development, safety was also a motivation. In some parts of the world, this could and is still argued to be the reason for their continued need. All three of these examples aren’t black and white. Tobacco, on the other hand, is.
Putting smoke into our bodies that has no medicinal or mental expansion value and supporting one of the biggest industries behind slavery in the US, which is still driven on enslaving through addiction and coercion, is counter to sustainable change. There are many things that can discredit the intentions of an activist or concerned individual. Smoking is subtle but significant; at minimum to one’s sense of integrity.
Here are a few of the thousands of reasons tobacco is undermining your wellbeing and activism. Let’s begin with the definition of slavery and make a thread between the topics:
slavery | ˈslāv(ə)rē | noun
• the state of being a slave: thousands had been sold into slavery.
• the practice or system of owning slaves.
• a condition compared to that of a slave in respect of exhausting labor or restricted freedom: female domestic slavery.
• excessive dependence on or devotion to something: slavery to tradition.
Pro-racism: We’ve got the obvious starting point of US history that built an empire on the backs and lives of the unwilling, but we’ll go further. After slavery was ’abolished’, new legal systems of oppression we’re put into place. Many of which have not been removed, only re-branded. Jim Crow Laws are the example taught in some schools, but it goes much further than that. Landowners and industries, such as Big Tobacco, that profited from these violent, racist laws were behind this continued oppression.
Through slavery, one of the most powerful capital forces was created and has not yet been dismantled. After the Civil War, tobacco companies began by paying politicians to create new systems of domination and enslavement. Simultaneously they were/are working with advertisers to coerce the public (a cornerstone of capitalism) to find fault in everything other than the product or company.** Finally, the industry standard of hiding information to limit your access to the truth (and their history) is still their default behavior until forced by the law to release the facts. These actions and much, much more are as common now as they were in the 1890s. They work to maintain consumer enslavement as well as keeping labor, class, gender, and environmental repression and destruction the norms.
I strongly recommend the award-winning book 'White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide' by Carol Anderson, Ph.D. as a great read to debunk any thought that racism in the U.S. is over or that it ever went away.
Anti-Feminism: Patriarchy is one of, if not the main reason, that feminism and many other forms of social evolution, like the progress of non-white communities, are being held back. Patriarchy is predicated on keeping those-not-in-power repressed. An addictive product, designed to kill, built on suffering, is the epitome of patriarchal power. Full stop. Patriarchy is the force attempting to prevent the respect and development of anything not male, not 1%.
This article from Feminism In India illustrates how smoking is a tool women could use for freedom in a patriarchal world. At the same time, it informs the reader enough to know that to do so comes at a cost. In the end one could conclude that to smoke may represent the freedom to be who you are but only by encouraging the monster that keeps you locked up. https://feminisminindia.com/2018/07/03/smoking-kills-patriarchy/
Anti-environment: Every meter of land taken for agriculture is the end of that local ecosystem, so we must use it cautiously. Land use for products with no benefit to society is, therefore, the enemy of the environment. With most ecosystems at risk or in collapse (not to mention those that are already extinct), we must act in their defense; beginning with conscious consumerism. The environment is an extension of the human body and its destruction is a reflection of the harm caused by a capitalist, patriarchal world. In particular, woman, children, people of color, animals, and ecosystems are all seen as expendable commodities to the tobacco sellers.
Pro-violence: In addition to all the violence written above, smoking also destabilizes moods and can lead to aggressive behavior. This can then contribute to domestic violence as well as other forms of violence; the same violence used to repress a class, race, or gender. Seeing the threads yet?
There is, of course, the self-harm factor. Some would argue that this is the fault and responsibility of the user. This is the same logic that says poor people are to blame for being poor. Tobacco consistently ranks in the top three most addictive substances. A simple study of how tobacco addiction works will demonstrate how and why. It creates addiction in a multitude of ways, throughout the brain and the body.
If we’d not been coerced into seeing smoking as a ‘right’, and if the harm to the body appeared in the form of an open wound on the skin, we’d never permit this horrendous industry to continue. We love each other too much to allow this, but out of sight out of mind works, and billions of dollars in advertising and legal manipulation allow us to ignore or even see the truth. So we let the violence continue and generation after generation suffers from our involvement, passivity, and/or collusion.
Pro-cultural appropriation: The decimation of Native American lives and culture is not a secret to anyone. The appropriation of their cultures to sell products or cast an image of respect for nature seems to me a profound insult when coming from outside of their own communities. For a company or individual to claim a resonance to their history while supporting one of the industries that put them down is abhorrent. I ask any smoker of American Spirit or any similar company that is reading this if they have ever voted to protect the rights or land of indigenous peoples or if they sent money or support to something like Standing Rock? This wouldn’t absolve the cultural appropriation but it would reflect an acknowledgment that goes beyond justifying your own consumer habit.
Pro-classism: Has the struggle of class divide bothered you? Are you interested in reducing the wealth/gender/ race wage gap? Again, capitalism and patriarchy take hold of our lives here. Modern capitalism needs this divide to stay in place in order to continue. Nothing new being said here, I know. Please try to consider how supporting one of the most exploitative industries in history is fueling that divide and holding us back. Read the linked article to see some examples of how the industry uses these divides to continue to profit.
Pro-capitalism/Pro-Patriarchy: Every. Example. Written. Above!
Here is a reminder of what patriarchy is for those new to the term. It goes so much deeper than these basic definitions. Understanding and acknowledging its existence is extremely illuminating and empowering:
patriarchy | ˈpātrēˌärkē | noun (plural patriarchies)
• a system of society or government in which the father or eldest male is head of the family and descent is traced through the male line.
• a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.
• a society or community organized on patriarchal lines.
Everything written here is also being done in full force outside of the U.S. and some European countries, where there are currently efforts to reduce the power of the tobacco industry. As consumption goes down in the States, Big Tobacco invests in developing markets around the world. Perhaps the 325 million Americans may one day go smoke-free but the BILLIONS of potential smokers in India, Africa, Malaysia, Indonesia, and elsewhere mean the industry has nothing to fear in the loss of power or profit in the coming years. Combined with their interest and efforts behind vaping, we look at a continued struggle to end this nightmare. In one of the cases where Western influence may be a good thing, we (in the west) can lead the way in removing the monster we created. This would be more of penance than an act of good will, though it should be both.
Holistic veganism includes self-care and care for all animals, human and non-human, as well as all ecosystems. I hope I have made a clear thread between the history of tobacco, its uselessness, and its current involvement in many of the plights that hold humans back and therefore encourage our neglect and destruction of the planet. Consumerism is possibly the farthest-reaching participation any of us have in this story. Compassionate consumerism (holistic veganism) is probably our best bet for a healthy and sustainable life. This has been a truly superficial look into the intersectionality of tobacco and its power as a destructive, immoral industry. This rabbit hole goes much deeper. Look further into one of the topics above and find your motivation to quit. Continue to raise your level of personal integrity so it may inspire others to do the same. Break the cycle that capitalist patriarchy has pushed on us and help social evolution along. Your freedom and health is the key to the world’s freedom and health. I wish you all the best.
*I have never used drugs except for one night of inhalants at age 15/16. I’m tired of their presence, uncomfortable around them, have lost two brothers related to their use as well as dozens of friends and acquaintances, yet I still see a value to them if we were a moral society and used them responsibly.
**A horrific example of this would be the history of flame retardant chemicals added to many of our household items and children’s products, such as our pillows, beds, and cribs. These carcinogenic neurotoxins are forced, by law, not for our safety but because of successful lobbying by the tobacco industry. In the middle of the last century, when death by home fire was more common and frequently caused by falling asleep with a lit cigarette in hand, Big Tobacco paid enough in bribes and used misdirected blame to allow politicians to ‘find’ fault in the fact that the world is flammable and not the unhealthy, unnecessary burning sticks that caused the fire in the first place.
PS. One of the best resources to learn about any of this is The Tobacco Atlas. Fantastic information to be found here. https://tobaccoatlas.org/
This blog was edited by Pete Thoreau, a vegan activist, and podcaster based in South Africa. His podcast is called Let's Rage Together