Light cigs, heavy profits

Getting the tobacco industry to speak truthfully about the dangers of its products is normally like convincing Lex Luthor to put warning labels on kryptonite. So it’s pretty ironic that British American Tobacco has been conducting a massive campaign to convince the Indonesian government to require all cigarette makers to list tar and nicotine levels on every pack, as the CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR reports.

An attack of conscience? Nope, more like a marketing strategy. Because of loose regulations and a lack of public education about the health risks of tobacco, Indonesians have developed a taste for high tar cigarettes — high enough to make Lucky Strikes taste like Virginia Slims. BAT, the world’s second-largest tobacco company, is pitching its product as the “healthier” alternative to locally produced coffin nails. “It may be ironic, but this is just business,” says one tobacco analyst.

Last year, the Indonesian government signed a law limiting nicotine and tar levels in cigarettes, giving BAT a huge advantage over local manufacturers. But now the government, under pressure from BAT’s competitors, is considering rewriting the law. BAT’s opponents say the implication that “lower tar = less health risk” has never been proven.