The Marlboro Man rides out of Australia.

The Marlboro Man rides out of Australia.

By Peter Zapfella

Thanks to tobacco addicting of allied soldiers during both world wars many new smokers were recruited. Those wars, plus the Korean and Vietnam conflicts were very profitable for the makers of Marlboro in Australia.

Cigarettes were distributed free to soldiers in their ration packs and by welfare agencies, including the Red Cross. Tobacco companies claimed smoking improved troop morale. The cigarettes were either ‘traded’ as hard currency, or smoked by soldiers. Estimates show that while almost 300,000 US servicemen were killed during WWII, perhaps 800,000 later died from tobacco smoking related diseases. Other estimates put the death toll closer to 3 million, 10 times more than the combat deaths. (Source: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/993/did-cigarettes-distributed-to-wwii-gis-kill-more-men-than-died-in-battle)

Smoking soldiers were sometimes shot by snipers, who could both smell and see the ‘glow’ of burning cigarettes at night. Suicide rates within the military have been linked to smoking. The risk of suicide has been found to increase with the number of cigarettes smoked daily. (Source: Matthew Miller, et al. “Cigarette Smoking and Suicide: A Prospective Study of 300,000 Male Active duty Army Soldiers.” American Journal of Epidemiology151 (2000): 1060-63.)

Cigarettes were eventually removed from US military rations following the Vietnam war in 1975, yet were still sold tax free in military stores. During ‘Desert Storm’ Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds sent ‘Oasis’ packages including food from Kraft (owned by Philip Morris), tobacco branded playing cards, ‘Marlboro Racing’ caps, magazines with Joe Camel ads, video tapes, and other promotional materials.

US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have been reported to smoke at twice the rate of other Americans. (Source: Kirby, A., et al. “Smoking in help-seeking veterans with PTSD returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.” Addict Behav.(2008);33: 1448–53.) Military personnel smoke as a response to boredom, anxiety, and stress, which are likely exacerbated for deployed troops. (Sources: Poston WS, Taylor JE, Hoffman KM, et al. Smoking and deployment: perspectives of junior-enlisted U.S. Air Force and U. S. Army personnel and their supervisors. Mil Med2008;173:441–447)

The deployment of thousands of young Americans to Iraq and Afghanistan in military engagements placed them at increased risk from the hazards of war, and also increased risk of addiction and disease from tobacco. (Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2724442)

Tobacco was grown commercially in Australia from soon after European settlement in 1788, until 2006 when the last commercial growers licenses were withdrawn.

Manufacturing began in the 1820’s and by 1901 local manufacturers were supplying 40 per cent of the market.

In 1954 the world’s largest tobacco company, Philip Morris, established it’s first cigarette factory outside the United States in Moorabbin, Melbourne, Australia.

At that time demand for tobacco products was so strong it was being commercially grown in every suitable growing location in all Australian states.

In the early 1990’s, I was aware many former tobacco farms in my region had been chemically contaminated by previous farming practices. The soils had unsafe levels of bioaccumulative insecticides such as DDT, paraquat, 2,4,5-T and dieldrin. The land could no longer be used for grazing animals for meat production.

In April 2014, Phil Morris, the manufactures of Marlboro said, “With the Australian market in gradual decline over the last decade, in 2006-09 Philip Morris substantially invested in the Moorabbin factory to capitalise on export opportunities across the region. However, these forecast export opportunities have not been realised due to Australian government reduced-fire risk requirements introduced in 2010 on all locally manufactured cigarettes that do not match consumers’ preferences in other markets in our region.’’ Philip Morris decided to close its Australian manufacturing business, and import from a lower cost production centre in South Korea.

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