new internationalist
issue 190 - December 1988



Deadly dealings
Cigarette selling in Asia

Face of tobacco's future.
Photo: Dexter Tiranti

The headlines of the tobacco tabloids proclaim the industry's intentions for the Third World. 'Bright future Predicted for Asia Pacific' proclaims one issue of World Tobacco, with subheadings of 'Growth Potential' and 'More Smokers'. Another article marvels at the 'great opportunities' offered by the Chinese market, citing China as the 'most important feature on the landscape' of the tobacco industry's future. But the admissions of the tobacco companies themselves are most revealing: 'You know what we want?' quipped one cigarette executive during a recent interview, 'We want Asia.'

Tobacco-related illnesses claim four US lives a minute - or 350,000 Americans a year, which is more than all the Americans killed in all the wars this century. But a thriving movement for nonsmokers' rights is having an effect in the States: in 1987 US citizens smoked 575 billion cigarettes - 65 billion fewer than in 1981. And 41 states now restrict smoking in public places. By contrast few developing countries have laws governing cigarette marketing. And where health labelling is required it is often meaningless because many Third World people are illiterate.

To speed things up the industry has enlisted help from the US Government which wields the big stick of trade sanctions. Thinly-veiled threats of retaliation - in the form of tariffs on primary exports against countries which resist infiltration by US tobacco companies, have successfully enabled the Marlboro cowboy to ride rough-shod over markets in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and elsewhere. The hard-sell often uses advertising techniques banned at home and many promotional activities are aimed at youth. In one scheduled Taiwanese rock concert - eventually cancelled because of the scandal it created - the price of admission was five empty packets of Winston cigarettes or 10 packs if the concert-goer wanted a souvenir sweatshirt.

'Third World consumers yearn for the sense of status implied by slick advertising. The little paper tube is sold not as a cigarette, but as a symbol or financial success, manliness and sexual attractiveness,' observes Charles Morrow, specialist in social development for the Canadian International Development Agency. In Kenya the success theme dominates both urban and rural advertising. Local stores are painted with Embassy colours and brandish the slogan 'International Embassy: The Smooth Way to Go Places.' And it works. In fact the WHO predicts that developing nations will face a cancer epidemic by the turn of the century.

Lori Helse / Worldwatch Institute


Brave new world
Killing field canals

When Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge sent Kampuchea's population into the 'killing fields', one of their goals was to build a nationwide irrigation system. Now, a decade after the Vietnamese drove the Khmer Rouge out of Kampuchea, the Kampuchean Government has made its priority to salvage what it can of the canals.

The canal system was inspired by a highly sophisticated network built during the Great Angkor Empire of the 12th to 14th centuries. The ancient water course was designed as an orderly series of canals lying at right angles to each other in a meticulous pattern. But when the Khmer Rouge ordered Kampucheans to build canals across the country they paid little attention to topography. Some of the canals were constructed so that water was expected to run uphill. Others were built so fast and with so little planning that they fell to pieces soon after they were finished. 'There was tremendous pressure to build fast, no matter what you did. If you didn't the Khmer Rouge killed you,' recalls one man.

Today more than 80 per cent of the 100,000 acres irrigated under the Khmer Rouge are inoperative. But although the country continues to face an aid boycott from the West because of Vietnam's occupation, the Government is slowly transforming the canal system into something farmers can use. It takes 600 people to build three kilometres of canal, and there is a chronic shortage of workers because nearly three million Kampucheans were killed by the Khmer Rouge and US. Reconstruction creeps along at a snail's pace.

'It's clear that as long as the fighting continues and as long as there's so little help coming from outside, it will take a long, long time,' says Jim Taylor, representative of the Mennonite Central Committee which funds the project, 'For now we just do what we can with the resources we have.'

Mary Kay Magistad / Panoscope


Radioactive paradise
Pacific islanders homeless

Refugees who were evacuated from their island in the mid-Pacific because of radiation dangers, have given up hope of ever returning. They are now looking for a new island home after a US Department of Energy report revealed that they have probably been suffering radiation exposure for years.

The islanders were twice evacuated from their home on Rongelap atoll following the Bravo thermonuclear test in 1954. Shortly after the first evacuation, US scientists monitored high levels of plutonium in the islanders' urine along with low white blood-cell counts, but brushed aside the findings as 'anomalous'. They concluded that the islands were safe except for the atoll's northern ring of islets, and the islanders were allowed home.

However that 'northern ring' was the islanders' food larder. 'While we might understand the quarantine, the lagoon-fish, sea-turtles and coconut-crabs in our diet don't: they move around and end up in our dinner,' says Senator Jeton Anjain, the islanders' parliamentary representative.

At their own request the 320 islanders were evacuated a second time from Rongelap three years ago. They settled on Mejato, a tiny uninhabited island across the lagoon from the US missile testing range. But living conditions remain bleak. Although a village has been built from the stripped buildings on Rongelap, life is hard and depressing. Food is always short.

The islanders are still not satisfied with the impartiality of the latest survey. They claim that US authorities used them as guinea pigs to monitor the long-term effects of radiation on people evidenced by the 1958 report which reads, 'The habitation of these people on the island will afford the most valuable ecological radiation data on human beings.' And they are seeking six million dollars for a full radiological survey of their homeland plus compensation for their exile. Meanwhile, they plan another move to an uninhabited island near the capital of the republic of the Marshall Islands, where they hope to build a better life.

David Robie / Gemini


Sex drive
China's new interest

Coming soon to Chinese schools: sex education.
Photo: Claude Sauvageot

Sex is a hot subject in China. Once taboo, it has recently established a new genre in literature, turning practical guides like Sexual Psychology and On the Art of the Nude, into bestsellers. Film characters have started talking openly about sex, whilst one film - Aids Patient - features a foreign teacher on his deathbed confessing to sexual indiscretions. Even the official media refer to sex outside marriage and homosexuality - both subjects considered unmentionable until recently.

Yet there is still considerable ignorance about sexual matters among the young. One newly-wed couple remained childless for two years because they thought the wife would become pregnant by just lying next to her husband. The anxieties of youngsters find expression in letters to magazines like China Youth. A woman writes: 'I am 23 years old. I was recently introduced to a young man whom I have grown to like very much. However he has made a certain request of me (I think you can guess what it is) and is now trying to blackmail me into accepting it. The problem is I still love him. How should I handle the situation?'

The magazine provides a tripartite response; from a lawyer advising that people in China have a legal and moral responsibility not to indulge in sex before marriage; from a doctor warning of dire medical consequences; and from a 'big sister' counselling the woman to seek love on a higher plane.

More practical help is slowly becoming available. Students returning to school in Beijing have discovered that sex education has appeared on the curriculum: more detailed classes are already available to university students and newly-married couples. Away from the cities hardly any middle schools offer sex-education and human biology is taught without reference to sexual organs - But the State Education Commission has announced that sex education will be introduced in 1,500 middle schools in rural areas over the next five years - despite the many teachers who say they will be too embarrassed to teach it.

Geoffrey Crothall / News-Scan International Ltd


Rough justice
Pakistan: marriage protests

Pakistani women are being arrested for protesting at legal changes which will fundamentally restrict their marriage rights.

The women's demonstrations come after a law which protects women was declared un-Islamic and therefore unconstitutional by a judge. The law - Family Laws Ordinance - discourages traditional divorces whereby men can annul their marriages by repeating the word talaq (divorce) three times. It also allows deserted wives to seek their own divorces. And it prohibits child marriages.

'We are back to square one and have to fight again for a cause won three decades ago,' says Begum Anwar Abmed, one of the few surviving members of the commission which campaigned for the law originally. The protests are an escalation of women's opposition to other laws which discriminate against them. One of these excludes females from testifying in trials for serious crimes like rape, adultery, theft and murder.

The legislation on rape is particularly harsh: by alleging rape, a woman legally admits that intercourse has taken place, implicating herself as a party to the offence. She can then be convicted as a guilty party if the court decides that she is an unreliable' witness. If the victim is too scared to complain however, but subsequently becomes pregnant, she will also be prosecuted for illicit intercourse (known as the Zina law) while the rapist may go free. Eight in ten women in Pakistani jails have been charged with the offence of illicit sex.

Shuiaat Ali Khan / Gemini


Car crash
Africar founders

Anthony Howarth's Africar. Anthony Howarth had a dream - a car made for Africa's unique road conditions that could be built in the continent using locally available materials He spent 10 years and all money trying to get Africar on the road But the dream has died.

The vehicle was to have been built using a plywood chassis reinforced by steel A flat engine ensured sufficient height to clear the deepest pot-holes on African roads and a wide wheel base prevented the car from sticking in the mud after the rains A British television series chronicled the epic 1984 test-drive from the Arctic to the Equator when three prototype vehicles completed the journey, all reaching their Kenyan destination in good condition.

Howarth - wildlife photographer, film-maker and engineer - thought that repairs and maintenance could be kept to a minimum by manufacturing the car in Africa. And the project would promote local skills and technology whilst saving valuable foreign exchange. But though many African governments were interested, none were prepared to commit themselves financially. And potential American backers were deterred when Howarth refused to comply with their demands for a more powerful engine - which he believed was unnecessary with high fuel-costs in Africa. Although Howarth put his life savings into the dream, the project collapsed due to lack of funds earlier this year, leaving him and his partner with $800,000 worth of debts.

Alan Rake / News-Scan International Ltd 

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New Internationalist issue 190 magazine cover This article is from the December 1988 issue of New Internationalist.
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