Smokers Are on a Global Defensive : Sales of American Brands Gain in Much of the World


From Red Square to Times Square, from the commuter trains of Tokyo to the Long Island Railroad and the Australian outback, the world's smokers are on the defensive.

A survey of the issue from Reuter correspondents around the world shows the warnings are everywhere--on cigarette packs, billboards and on television. And if smokers don't get the message, there are laws to keep them from lighting up.

You can't book a seat in the smoking section on domestic flights in the Soviet Union or Australia. There is none, even on the nine-hour trip from Moscow to the Siberian city of Khabarovsk or the six-hour flight across Australia from Sydney to Perth.

Smoke-Free Zone

Perhaps the only outdoor smoke-free zone in the world is Red Square in Moscow, where smoking is banned to show respect to Lenin, whose embalmed body lies in a mausoleum on one side of the square.

Forget about a smoke-filled dining room in Beverly Hills. And smoking bans have been instituted in San Francisco and will go into effect in April in New York City. In New York City, where lighting up has long been prohibited in elevators, buses and subways, the three main rail links to Westchester County and Long Island have strict no-smoking bans, prompted by federal legislation under which the railway authority stood to lose $539 million a year in subsidies. Smoking is already banned on New Jersey Transit trains.

But despite crackdowns on smoking in the United States--warnings from the surgeon general, bans on some airplane flights and in government offices, no television advertising--exports of American-blend cigarettes have never been higher.

$2-Billion Market

About 100 billion U.S. cigarettes were sold abroad last year, finding a $2-billion market in Japan, Taiwan, Greece and South Africa, among other countries.

"It's a status thing to smoke American-type cigarettes in the Third World," said one tobacco analyst with the Agriculture Department.

The cachet of the cigarette is a powerful influence in China, where 340 million smokers puff their way through 1.3 trillion cigarettes each year.

In Japan, too, cigarettes find little overt opposition. No-smoking areas are set aside in government offices, hospitals, railway cars and aircraft. Smoking is banned on Tokyo subway stations due to fear of fire, not fear of smoking-related ailments. Japanese cigarette packs carry a polite note: "Don't smoke too much, it's bad for your health."

In Argentina, where 1.7 million cigarette packs are sold annually, enough for three packs a day for each resident, a newly founded Anti-Tobacco Union plans a world tobacco and health congress in 1992. Smoking is banned on public transport in Buenos Aires and no TV ads for tobacco are allowed before 10 p.m.

But elsewhere in Latin America, the Marlboro Man still gallops into the sunset on television, a macho symbol of the glories of tobacco in the American West.

Brand of Choice

Marlboro cigarettes are still a brand of choice in Mexico, where pop stars and salsa musicians do ads for cigarettes and smokers feel no qualms about lighting up even in theaters, where smoking is banned.

India, which claims to be the world's largest tobacco producer, has no plans to prohibit smoking, even though as many as a million Indians die each year of tobacco-related diseases. However, each pack of cigarettes carries a health warning.

France, the land of Gauloises and Gitanes, is torn by the to-smoke-or-not-to-smoke controversy. To calm the conflict, tobacco manufacturers have launched a campaign to promote mutual tolerance between smokers and non-smokers.

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