Merchants of Death


According to a recent report by the British Medical Journal, there is an often unethical misrepresentation of the work of corporations in the work for “social responsibility” or in their “social responsibility activities,” as these present a “sanitized and soft public image.”

This can be detrimental if not devastating to the work of corporations within the context of health and wellness, so wellbeing, of the general public.

Kamran Siddiqi, Professor in Global Public Health at the University of York, in the editorial, stated, “Among its many tactics, the tobacco industry has long been using corporate social responsibility activities to present a sanitized and soft public image while they continue to produce and promote their lethal products.”

This clean representation of that which is not clean creates a cloaked representation to the public compared to the complete reality of the situation. This could lead to “substantial damage to public health” based on the manipulation of public policy for corporate benefit without regard for the health of the general public.

A prime example is given with the Prime Minister (of Pakistan) Imran Khan offered a purported donation to fund a new dam for solving the energy and water crisis of the country.

Siddiqi said, “This happened a few days after the administration took a U-turn on their flagship policy of introducing ‘health levy’ on cigarettes as a way to increase public revenue and expenditure on health.”

About 20% of Pakistani adults consume tobacco on a regular basis. The definition or rate and extent of “regular” is not provided within the article. Nonetheless, this reported as leading to 160,000 deaths every year in Pakistan.

As a signatory of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention to Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), Pakistan put in place some measures in order to reduce the level of harm associated with tobacco.

“…including smoking ban in public places, restricting cigarette sale in packs of 20 only and increasing the size of pictorial health warning on cigarette packs,” Siddiqi explained, “However, the country has taken regressive steps on tobacco taxation, which is generally considered to be the most effective policy tool to curb tobacco use.”

Two years ago, the government of Pakistan implemented a three-level system of taxation. This permitted tobacco companies to alter the popular products from the higher tax to the lower tax, or the second tier to the third tier.

This is correlated with an increase in tobacco consumption by the general Pakistani public linked to more profits, by implication of increased sales, for the tobacco industry relative to Pakistan.

Siddiqi said, “Recently, the government has also allowed companies to start re-manufacturing cigarettes in packs of 10 for ‘export’ purposes, which might be brought back into the internal Pakistani markets, as many anti-tobacco campaigners fear.”

Thus, we come to the rather messy and not-so-clean image of the tobacco industry, in fact, compared to the one in the image. Now, the industry, the tobacco industry, is working to expand the “corporate social responsibility activities” into the Pakistani media, even further.

“These include offering cigarette gift packs to Pakistan Naval Forces and Prime Minister’s house, building a cigar lounge for members of parliament inside the Parliament House, setting up mobile hospitals and computer centers, launching tree plantation campaigns and sponsoring conferences and sign boards for public bodies,” Siddiqi stated.

The article concludes that the slowing progress on control of tobacco and its harmful effects on the public have begun to slow down. The recent legislation is working to increase the warning about the harms of tobacco.

There was a health levy, but this was regressed substantially. Leading to a response by the Federal Board of Revenue, it said the tobacco tax increases may increase the illicit tobacco trade.

More in the article listed in the reference.


Siddiqi, K. (2019, January 9). The hidden power of corporations. Retrieved from

Photo by Leonardo Yip on Unsplash

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