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Tobacco Companies Countered Muslim Opposition To Smoking By Linking It To Extremism


Tobacco companies battle religious edicts and opposition to smoking in Muslim markets by connecting anti-smoking views to extremism. This strategy reminds me of the way in which the “father of Public Relations,” Edward Bernays, targeted women by presenting cigarettes as “torches of freedom.”

By Tom Blackwell, National Post

The tobacco industry has been waging a sort of religious war for decades, recruiting Islamic scholars and crafting theological arguments to counter a feared Muslim opposition to smoking, a new, Canadian co-authored study suggests.

The companies’ tactics have included courting Muslim experts at McGill University and portraying religious objections to tobacco as a form of extremism – at odds with freedom and modernism generally, the analysis of years of industry documents reveals.

“The industry has sought to distort and misinterpret the cultural beliefs of these communities, and to reinterpret them to serve the industry’s interests,” charges Kelley Lee, a global health-policy expert at Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University and one of the authors of the study. “All to sell a product that kills half of its customers.”

With smoking on the decline in the West, Muslim countries in the Middle East and southeast Asia are among the most important markets for the sector, notes Prof. Lee.


MARWAN NAAMANI / AFP / Getty ImagesA woman smokes a cigarette at a cafe in Dubai on May 31, 2008.

Yet for at least three decades, companies have fretted about the menace posed by Muslim ideology in those places, memos and reports unearthed by Prof. Lee and her colleagues indicate. A 1996 British American Tobacco (BAT) document, for instance, describes the “Islamic threat,” including rising fundamentalism, as a “real danger” to the industry.

“This amounts to us having to prepare to fight a hurricane,” the memo warns.

An industry-linked law firm’s presentation proposed a theological retort to such pressures. The Koran does not actually prohibit use of tobacco, and “making rules beyond what Allah has allowed is a sin in itself,” the firm advised.

The study suggests Muslim thinking on the topic has changed over the years, but because of health reasons, not growing conservativism. Muslim jurists in the past generally considered tobacco use neutral, but as its risks became better known, some proclaimed it “markrooh” – discouraged – or even “haram” – prohibited, the paper says.

The material outlined in the study was drawn from the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, a database of 15 million internal industry documents filed during lawsuits by U.S. states, most before 1998.

While the library did not provide access to the most recent documents, evidence suggests the companies are still trying to influence Muslim religious currents, said Prof. Lee, formerly with the U.K.’s London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. A recent ad for Gauloises cigarettes in Qatar, for instance, depicts an Arab-looking woman without a headscarf, the tagline saying “Freedom Always.”

Bodies like the World Health Organization need to refute the industry-promoted idea that tobacco use in Muslim countries is an expression of escape from religious constraints, especially for women, the authors suggest.

Whether because of its religious-based strategies or not, the industry does appear to have thrived in many Muslim countries. While BAT sold fewer cigarettes worldwide in 2014 than the year before, the number increased in six countries, including Muslim Bangladesh, Iran, Turkey and Pakistan, a company report said.

The internal industry documents showed that companies first recognized in the 1970s that Islam posed a threat to expansion in such regions – a “formidable obstacle to the industry,” as one 1991 memo said.

The industry began years ago depicting that kind of stance as extremist, and suggested that even the WHO was part of the movement. The UN agency has “joined forces with Muslim fundamentalists who view smoking as evil,” complained one Philip Morris document. A BAT report in 2000 suggested the WHO’s efforts to link smoking and Islam had borne fruit and needed to be “managed.”

A tobacco lobbyist told Philip Morris in 1985 to portray anti-smoking Muslims as fundamentalists, and suggest their strict reading of Sharia law would lead to other curbs on modern living.

Read the rest of the article…

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  • Khanage

    Wtf man?

  • Khanage

    You have no facial features at all.

  • Khanage

    I’m a feminist.

  • Rajano

    People who support the war on (other) drugs make the same argument. I certainly disagree with their use – for health and moral reason – but the reason they fund crime is that they are illegal in the first place. In New York City, Eric Garner was murdered by police after he was confronted by them for the “crime” of selling single cigarettes as a way of getting around taxation.

  • downwithpants

    Like bush and freedom fries lol

  • 786 I disagree 37%.
    I think scholars have gone too far when it comes to declaring things haram. When scholars–and the general public–have incomplete information, they will make faulty decisions. I am reminded of a scholar who was told that betel nut was an hallucinogen–it is NOT, something I know from personal experience–and so he immediately declared it haram.
    This is foolishness in the guise of learning. Apparently I could tell a scholar that cheesecake kills you, and cheesecake would become haram.
    They see that smoking kills and declare tobacco haram even though it was not forbidden by the Prophet (saw). At what point will we declare eating carcinogenic additives in our food to be haram? That kills you. Is going out in the sun haram for Aussies but not for Americans? Or since too much sun can give even an American skin cancer, is it totally haram? Is grilling (makes the meat carcinogenic) haram too? If you grill your meat every day you may very well get cancer and die, while your neighbor smokes twenty packs a day and lives to 375 years.
    Moreover, alcohol like gambling is forbidden because of the immediate harm it does, not because of the diseases it creates. The same is true of pork; it is not haram because eating it for years will kill you–there is no evidence for this, as the longest-lived populations on Earth all eat it regularly–but because eating it could kill you quickly. And most importantly because all three have been specifically declared by God (swt) to be haram, a distinction which tobacco does not have. It just doesn’t. Nowhere in the Qur’an and nowhere in any hadith, however unreliable, is tobacco mentioned. Ever.
    Instead scholars have been taking God’s (swt) declarations and trying to go behind them to ask why, as if man needs a reason to obey God’s (swt) commands!
    That itself is blasphemous. To go still further, and believe we have *discovered* the reasons why God (swt) has forbidden a thing [astaghfirullah], and go around declaring things to be forbidden based on our limited human reasoning–
    no. Astaghfirullah.
    The arrogance is too much. And these bloated “scholars” are too full of themselves to see it.
    On top of these considerations is the fact that many scholars have gone even further and declared all forms of tobacco haram, despite the curative powers of tobacco. One of the earlier English physicians once declared tobacco to be the most useful–and most abused–plant in his arsenal. Preparations of tobacco have among other things potent astringent, anti-bacterial, and analgesic properties. There are entire tribes whose medicine men heal with tobacco, tobacco, and..tobacco.
    I do not accept declarations of anything to be haram which was not specifically forbidden.
    Zero things.
    Not anything.
    A complete and total absence of things.
    The Qur’an is clear, not vague, on this.
    And that is something I do not question.

  • 786
    Salaams to everypony.
    People too often confuse “modernism,” which is a cultural and philosophical phenomenon, with “stuff that has happened in modern times,” which are historical events which occur within a certain temporal proximity to the utterer–in this case, you.
    They are not the same.
    “Freedom” is also a term which can mean radically different things depending on the context in which it is uttered. “Freedom” for the Cherokee people could mean self-determination for their tribe, or it could mean the “freedom” to continue
    abusing the Black Cherokees and denying them their tribal rights as they have done for years.
    “Freedom” for a Mexican could mean freedom to work for an honest wage,
    or freedom to enslave thousands of natives and sacrifice them on top of a
    temple–oh wait, that already happened didn’t it?
    To assume that Tanveer was discussing the specific issue of freedom for blacks and not, for instance, the freedom of white slavers to enslave and traffick in them, is unsupported by what he said. He may indeed prefer freedom for blacks over freedom for white slavers to enslave them–and let me hasten to add that I believe this to be the case–but that specific meaning is nowhere indicated by what he actually said.
    Moreover, you imply that ‘doing your work for you’ is necessarily a bad thing. This assumes that blacks are in fact incapable of entering into economic contracts in a way that would benefit them. You might pay a good wage and benefits. You might pay no wage but have a skill which a black individual might wish to learn.
    If, on the other hand, you are just an unsatisfactory employer–e.g., if you pay too little and teach no skills–then *that* is the reason they won’t do your work for you, not some weird notion of “freedom” or “modernism.”
    This imprecise use of words as ideological bludgeons (Slavery! War! Freedom! Imperialism! Peace! Abortion! Fundamentalist! Jim Crow! The Holocaust ™! Colonialism! CHILDREN! OOOOH GOD THE CHILDREN OH WOE IS ME! Kept Woman! etc.) is one reason I am frequently at loggerheads with people espousing certain things like “modernism” and “fill in the blank ideological meme/trope.”
    The sooner people disabuse the notion that “freedom” means whatever freedoms they, personally, happen to like, and that “modernism” means whatever events in modern times that they, personally, happen to agree with, the better it will be for everypony.

  • Before the American Revolution, John Adams would only drink tea if it had been “honestly smuggled” or if the tea had otherwise escaped having duties paid on it. He eventually switched to coffee and declared tea a “traitor’s drink” (in a private letter to his wife).

  • Capt. JB Hennessy

    Not for the one Mufti that choose Marlboro.

  • HerrSkolly


  • Capt. JB Hennessy

    “A 1996 British American Tobacco (BAT) document, for instance, describes the “Islamic threat,” including rising fundamentalism, as a “real danger” to the industry.”

    Perhaps they could bomb and destabilize a Muslim nation causing Muslim refugees to flee to a more modern smoking nation. Then the Daily Mail, Sun and New York Times could describe them as Muslim invaders, Philip Morris could sell them cigarettes and Steve Emerson could get his job back at Fox News talking about smoke free zones becoming completely no go zones because Muslims cause cancer. It would be a win win situation for the right wing Christian constabulary.

  • Capt. JB Hennessy

    Obviously you haven’t seen the “9 out of 10 Muftis recommend Camels” commercial.

  • ShunTheRightWhale
  • Tanveer ¯_(ツ)_/¯ Khan

    Yeah, too soon.

  • HerrSkolly

    Unforgivable tactics by Big Tobacco. I believe the industry really does think people – medical professionals, college professors, lawyers, cotton candy makers, CEOs, conservatives, moderates, liberals, etc. – are stupid. Well, some are – most, however, are not. Their propagandizing is obvious.

    On that note, I think I’ll stand in my backyard and practice my freedom for a moment – wouldn’t want to impact younger beings in my vicinity.

  • downwithpants

    That’s what I keep telling my black friends who won’t do my work for me…too soon?

  • moraka

    A recent ad for Gauloises cigarettes in Qatar, for instance, depicts an
    Arab-looking woman without a headscarf, the tagline saying “Freedom

    How do they expect to sell their products by antagonizing Muslims in a Muslim country. Apparently they are aiming at the anti-Islamic minority.
    But one thing is certain though, morality is not something that legalized drug lords have in abundance.

  • sasboy

    One more cheap deplorable tactic by the tobacco industry. Hopefully it is destined to fail.

  • cmyfe .

    This is terrorism on smoking, alcoholism, narcotics, various forms of cancer and other diseases!
    Smoking / Alcohol have killed more people than Al-Qaeda, ISIS and other militant groups combined yet when you open the news paper they condemn these groups (rightly so) but on the next page they advertise and promote alcohol! What hypocrisy!
    I say death to smoking / Alcohol and narcotics!

  • Tanveer ¯_(ツ)_/¯ Khan

    Freedom and modernism can go stuff themselves.

  • downwithpants

    In Toronto they were running a billboard “illegal cigarettes fund crime” I thought about it… because the state doesn’t get the taxes from the reserve cigs. Then I thought well with the tax money it feeds corrupt politicians, police etc….I know where I’m putting my money. . If I smoked

  • downwithpants

    Good ol’ Nick Naylor at it again.

  • Yausari

    Freedom? How is being an addict make you free? This is ridiculous…
    Hold that thought; Commercial break… We’ll be right back…

    (Reminder: if you want to criticize Islam. Don’t forget to use the word freedom)

    And we’re back:
    This is slowly turning into a “freedom to commit crime”.I’ll give em five months. Maybe less.

  • mindy1

    Well that is a interesting take on smoking…

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