On Last Week Tonight, John Oliver reports on Philip Morris International's unsavory habit of suing countries over laws requiring health warnings on cigarette packaging, while proposing a compromise that preserves Big Tobacco's marketing goals while protecting public health: Meet Jeff, the Diseased Lung In A Cowboy Hat.
Oliver's proposed mascot is a humorous coda to this 18-minute segment (#JEFFWECAN!), but the piece is 100% worth watching in its entirety:
Restrictions on tobacco ads have helped lower U.S. smoking rates dramatically since the '60s (though America's young and poor remain an attractive growth market for cigarette companies). Elsewhere, however, tobacco consumption during that period has been on a steady rise. According to the United Nations, tobacco consumption in developing nations increased by some 70% between 1970 and 2000. "Much of the increase was in China," The New York Times reported in 2013, "but there has also been substantial growth in Africa, where smoking rates have traditionally been low." Today, more than 75% of the world's smokers are estimated to live in the developing world.
In recent years, countries – especially small ones like Uruguay in South America and Togo in Africa – have had a shockingly difficult time counteracting the powerful influence of companies like Philip Morris International. That the tobacco industry wields tens of billions of dollars of financial influence should come at no surprise – how it uses that influence to bully small, developing nations, however, may come as a shock.
Again, this segment is a must-watch. And if you're not already keeping up with Last Week Tonight, you should be. This episode's as good a place as any to get on board with its humorous brand of investigative journalism.