The Last Empire

I was deeply saddened on reading the news last week. I learned not only is there a cigarette factory near to my home town in Aotearoa/ New Zealand, but also they are expanding production. As if this was not bad enough, even just the name of the company is an embarrassment: Imperial Tobacco. Finally, it was also sad to see the news report title emphasizing that the factory expansion would create a few jobs, rather than the fact that it will kill many, many more people.

Imperial Tobacco started as a factory in 1928, according to this news story. It was bought out by a new company relatively recently, in 1999. That is when the new company gave it the new name.

Since that time the new company has positioned itself to take over production from a factory in Sydney. What will happen to the Sydney company’s factory personnel is not clear. I suppose they will have to look for other jobs. In the meantime, the old local factory in Petone will produce four times as many cigarettes. But cigarettes kill one in every five smokers. That’s 20% of every one hundred smokers will die from cancer, heart disease, or some other painful and disgusting death. It is hard to be proud of a local company producing this much more pain and suffering.

The name itself is an anachronism and an embarrassment. Koreans know very well the pain associated with the word ‘imperial.’ It is a moniker associated with images and connotations of abuse of power, oppression, subjugation, and exploitation. In a sense then it is both ironic and all too fitting for a cigarette company which makes money from the power of addiction, and subjugates and exploits its customers literally to the point of death for many, and shocking misery for many more.

Finally, I want to offer a very brief media analysis focusing only on the titles of the two news reports to cover the story. It is very interesting to see the contrast between the two different titles of these stories which were published in the mainstream national online news media the same day as each other. The first one reads: “Tobacco deal creates 50 jobs in Petone” and so clearly celebrates the new jobs the factory expansion will bring. It was published at 5 am on Monday morning. The second one is entitled: “Cancer society blasts tobacco export” and was published in the evening at just after 5 pm. It is clearly about the response from the national Cancer Society, although it still contains unnecessary information helpful to the company such as the brand names to be produced, and a return quote and even a picture of the company manager. In these ways then, the impact of the statement from the Cancer Society and the effect of the dramatic verb in the title ‘blasts’ is reduced, and the increased production of a thing which actually kills one fifth of its customers is actively supported. The Cancer Society estimates that approximately 20,000 people will die as a result of the work of those 50 new jobs being fulfilled in Petone. This does not even include the many hundreds, maybe thousands who will be sickened due to second and third-hand smoke.

I remain greatly disappointed in the manipulative local media, just as I am in the abusive, exploitative local company. I do hope all Australian smokers quit smoking soon and the offensively named Imperial Tobacco goes out of business very quickly.


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