The Ethics of Selling a Deadly Product:
An Examination of the Tobacco Industry in America
When you see “Oreo cookies,” what is the first thing that comes to your mind? How about “Jell-O” or “Cool Whip?” Odds are it’s nothing more then they all are delicious - or that they are all pure sugar and really not part of a “healthy diet.” Either way, by purchasing any of these products you are, in fact, indirectly funding a corporation that contributes to the deaths of 438,000 Americans every year (CDC 2006). Kraft Foods, Nabisco, Marlboro Cigarettes, Parliament Cigarettes, and a myriad of other companies sit under the financial umbrella of the Altria Group (aka the Phillip Morris Corporation). So, with that said, how well do you really know the tobacco industry?
Before proceeding anymore, it is important that the objective of our paper is stated. The purpose of this project was to identify and research an ethical dilemma in the corporate world. We have decided to examine the tobacco industry due to the fact that it is deeply infused in our culture and that it deals with perhaps one of the more significant components of ethics – free will. But for the time being, our main objective/ethical dilemma in short is: Is it ethical to sell a product as addictive and harmful as tobacco?
Ethics are essentially the rules of conduct established as a whole by specific societies in regards to its citizen’s actions; and/or on a more personal level, the moral principles of an individual. As for laws, they are the established sum of all the ethics, morals, and mores of its society governing the everyday affairs of life within it for its citizens, normally enforced by a superior governing entity. Though do NOT make the mistake, and this section is paramount, not all laws are universally moral or ethical. In the sense that an action may be legal, but not very ethical or moral (or at all). This is the intriguing aspect of the tobacco industry.
What they sell is addictive and harmful to ones health - that is a fact. So why isn’t it illegal? This paper hopes to explore that concept a little more in depth.
History of the Tobacco Industry
The history of the tobacco industry dates back to the 16th century. Smokable tobacco’s first attempted to grow was in 1610. By 1612 the first seed was developed to grow a smokable tobacco (Philip Morris USA). Once that began, the industry was born and the first medium of exchange was created. By 1791, tobacco accounted for one-fifth of all American exports. To this day, it is America's seventh largest cash crop with exports contributing billions of dollars to the U.S. balance of trade (Philip Morris USA). Two of the founding companies of the tobacco industry were R.J. Reynolds Industries and American Tobacco. R.J. Reynolds Industries is famous for the Camel Cigarette. They were the first to mass produce cigarettes using the Bonsack Machine. The Bonsack Machine was created by James Albert Bonsack. The machine was designed to roll a mass amount of cigarettes in a short amount of time.
Reynolds Tobacco Company had originally started with its first national brand, Prince Albert, but then later came out with the very successful Camel cigarette with “Joe Camel.” In 1913 the Camel cigarette transformed the industry. Camel was the first modern cigarette. Reynolds Tobacco Company’s response to the “cancer scare” of the 1950’s was the adoption of the filtered cigarette. Even though there is no proof that the filtered cigarette reduces the chance of cancer.
The American Tobacco company, founded by Buck Duke, was the first company to mass produce smoking cigarettes. In 1884 Buck Duke first implemented the Bonsack machine into his factory in order to mass produce cigarettes (Murrell). “It would be well into the twentieth century before cigarettes were the predominant form of tobacco in the United States” (Murrell)....
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