Soviets won't kick bad habit if U.S. companies can help it

Elise T. Chisolm

October 04, 1990|By Elise T. Chisolm

Well, I'll be. Here we are thrilled with the Soviet Union's glasnost, yet our current love affair with that nation may not mean much. We may blow it, as in smoke!

Have you heard? We're sending our new friends a dangerous weapon. We are selling them cigarettes.

The Wall Street Journal says the Soviets have said "Da" -- "yes" in Russian lingo -- to Philip Morris and RJR Nabisco Inc.

"To help alleviate the Soviet Union's worst cigarette shortage in decades, Philip Morris Cos. and RJR Nabisco Inc. have been asked by Moscow to supply 34 billion cigarettes, the largest export order in either company's history. In exchange for providing the smokes, the companies will receive a combination of hard currency and barter items."

Soviet smokers puff 400 billion cigarettes annually. The nation must be having a massive nicotine fit.

And what are those barter items, caviar, cheap vodka, potatoes or real fur earmuffs?

In the Journal article it was never explained how the Soviets feel about lung and heart diseases related to smoking, or all-winter coughs, or just the magnitude of the bad-health fallout.

So we're sending them a not-too-secret-weapon that may prevent many of them from being around to enjoy the fruits of glasnost. We should be sending them former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop.

Then listen to this, one of the American marketing entrepreneurs who is involved in this sale said: "This is a footstep into a huge potential market, and will sap up a lot of capacity which is created by declining consumption in the U.S."

Now here's the paradox, we are now the Soviets' allies, and yet because our cigarette sales are down, greedy corporate heads have taken it upon themselves to support Soviet smoking habits.

As far as I'm concerned that's the Cold War heating up in an unhealthful way.

A friend just back from Soviet Union, says he took two cartoons of cigarettes with him to Kiev, because he knew it would make him more popular. It did.

"I saw lines a block long of people waiting for cigarettes, many with their vodka in hand. At the hotel I passed out packages. I never had to tip. I gave out single cigs in the bar."

"What did you get in return, that hard core vodka that they drink?" I asked.

"No, big bear hugs and kisses. I felt like that handsome dude in the Marlboro ad sitting on his horse with the cowboy hat looking like he owned the country and could take over the world."

Well we might if we besiege our new allies with our bad habits.

What a way to celebrate the end of the Cold War -- by smoking 'em out!

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