Merchants of death

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19 November 2014

“A fag is a tube of paper with a fire at one end and a fool at the other.”


The Japanese-owned JTI Gallagher tobacco factory at Ballymena in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, will be closed down by 2017 resulting in the loss of nearly 900 jobs, according to a BBC report published today.

Workers were said to have been in tears when they first heard the news last month.

Cigarettes sold by JTI Gallagher include Benson & Hedges, Silk Cut, Winston, Camel and Mayfair. The company also sells roll-your-own tobacco and Hamlet cigars.

When the closure was announced, North Antrim MP Ian Paisley Jr described it as a “body blow” to the Northern Ireland economy.

In a joint statement, reported by the BBC, Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the announcement was “terrible news for many loyal workers, many of whom have given years of service to this firm over generations”.

JTI (Japan Tobacco International) said it was restructuring its manufacturing facilities “as a result of significant and sustained changes impacting its global business”.

According to the BBC, the company said: “The challenging economic environment, excise tax pressure coupled with illegal trade has triggered industry volume contraction in a number of key European countries.”

According to JTI, these problems had been compounded by European Union (EU) cigarette packaging legislation designed to cut the number of smokers.

According to the BBC, the EU Tobacco Products Directive stipulates that health warning pictures must dominate the front and back of all packaging. In addition, flavoured cigarettes such as menthol will be banned and all packs must have at least 20 cigarettes to ensure room on the pack for health warnings. Member states have until 2016 to introduce the legislation.

Commenting on its planned closures in Northern Ireland and also in Belgium, JTI said production might move to Poland and Romania.

According to the BBC, Davy Thompson of the Unite trade union said the proposed closure of the plant at Ballymena was “just a cost-saving measure.”

Now Unite has come up with a plan to save 500 of the 876 jobs threatened.

According to the BBC report today, the trade union has proposed that the Ballymena factory should become a “centre of excellence” for pouch tobacco and cigar production even if cigarette manufacture has to be axed.

The union is now seeking worker endorsement and political support for its idea.

Founded in 1857, Gallaher is said to be the third largest of the three major British tobacco groups, the other two being British American Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco.

Based in Tokyo, Japan Tobacco, one of the world’s major tobacco companies, became the sole owner of the Gallagher Group in 2007 in the largest ever foreign acquisition in Japan’s corporate history. According to Wikipedia, Japan Tobacco also has interests in foods, pharmaceuticals, agribusinesses, engineering and real estate. With headquarters in Geneva, JTI is the international tobacco division of Japan Tobacco.


Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!

Workers stand to lose their jobs at a Northern Ireland firm that has been killing people for more than 150 years!

This is indeed terrible news.

And what is the reason for this catastrophe?

Well, one major cause is the fact that the European Union (EU) has taken limited action to try and reduce the number of deaths from smoking.

What an awful thing to do!

Fancy threatening the livelihoods of “loyal workers, many of whom have given years of service to this firm over generations”, simply because you want to save lives!

We are supposed to have a free market in the EU, aren’t we?

Well, what’s this bloated nanny superstate doing sticking its nose into model companies that are minding their own business – in this case, the production of addictive products that kill – and making a tidy profit out of it, too, thus putting bread into the mouths of hard-working employees?

If people want to kill themselves by smoking, then why shouldn’t they? It’s a free world, isn’t it?

Funny that we don’t hear the same argument put forward in respect of people who want to kill themselves by ingesting heroin or crack cocaine.

No, hard drugs are banned by law.

So why isn’t smoking?

If we allow giant transnational corporations to make money out of selling lethal cigarettes, why don’t we allow others to turn a fast buck by marketing opium or arsenic?

The Unite trade union has come up with a scheme to preserve some of the jobs under threat at Ballymena by turning the plant into a “centre of excellence” for pouch tobacco and cigars.

A “centre of excellence” for the manufacture of a product which is guaranteed to kill people? An oxymoron, if ever we heard one.

We have a question.

In the 157 years of the company’s existence, did no employee ever stop to think whether it was right to earn their living by producing a product that will rudely truncate the lives of fellow human beings?

Some people might regard such work as indisputably immoral.

Could the cigarette makers not have sought other work that actually enhanced people’s lives? Baking, teaching, the medical professions, social work, etc – the list of alternative non-toxic occupations is endless.

It is certainly a major blow when people lose the their jobs.

But one has also to take into account the sort of work they were doing.

At the end of the Second World War, did we shed tears at the loss of work for those whose job it was to prepare the canisters for the gas chambers?

There is, of course, a massive contradiction in the attitude of public authorities to the manufacture of toxic products such as tobacco.

If these products are lethal, why is their production not illegal?

Hard drugs are illegal. What is tobacco if not a hard drug?

For an explanation you need to consider the massive tax revenue that pours into government coffers from the purchasing habits of those addicted to smoking. You also need to consider the impact on government ministers of intense well-funded lobbying by wealthy tobacco companies and their allies in the trade unions.

None the less, if we were a hedge fund, we would not be contemplating betting the farm right now on an investment in tobacco production.

For Big Tobacco the writing is on the wall.

Ballymena is a straw in the wind.

Today tobacco is on the spot.

Tomorrow, hopefully, it will be the turn of the alcohol and arms industries.

G’night, folks.


 You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts.  For instance:

  1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
  2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
  3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
  4. Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
  5. Ladder  (21 June 2012)
  6. A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
  7. A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
  8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)

Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.




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