Cigarettes are producing an unprecedented worldwide health catastrophe. Global traffic in cigarettes has tripled in the last fifty years, in large part because governments have become addicted to tobacco taxes, international trade agencies have promoted tobacco sales, and marketers have devised ever more deceptive tactics. Meanwhile, tobacco-induced diseases are besieging local communities around the world. Whether in China, Brazil or Morocco, families are emptying bank accounts, often in vain, to treat smoking-caused illnesses, and then struggling with the shards of broken futures. Cigarettes are already the world's leading preventable cause of death. Yet most of the epidemic lies in the future. A hundred million people died from tobacco use during the last century and if current trends continue, a billion could die from tobacco-induced diseases in the twenty-first century. The majority of these deaths will be in middle-to-lower income countries. No other foreseeable disease agent - pandemic influenza, HIV, biological terrorism - is likely to so sizably damage human health worldwide.
In the twentieth century, the only national government to ban tobacco products was Bhutan's. Elsewhere policy efforts tended to be piecemeal and regulatory. These efforts - inasmuch as they served to dampen smoking rates in some parts of the world or among some segments of national populations- did little to curb the scope of cigarettes sold globally. At millennium's end, about a third of all people aged 15 and over were consuming nearly six trillion cigarettes per annum. Has tobacco's reign reached its historical zenith yet? Has the calculus changed now that the World Health Organization has launched its Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC)?
The FCTC is the world's first global health treaty. Since 2005 it has been signed by 168 countries and, among those, ratified by 155. The FCTC's designers claim that the treaty represents a "paradigm shift" in developing strategies to address tobacco, but what kinds of obstacles will the implementers confront? Will ratifying governments now begin more forcefully extinguishing tobacco's reign? What challenges do local FCTC proponents face and what technical assistance might they need? Providing answers to such questions requires the establishment of interdisciplinary centers at key research facilities.
Together with Stanford researchers in History, Disease Prevention, and Medical Anthropolgy, the newly-founded Global Tobacco Prevention Research Initiative strives to apply Stanford's strategic resources to help nations around the world better understand how to move into a smoke-free world, a world beyond tobacco.
This project culminated in the publication of the book Poisonous Pandas: Chinese Cigarette Manufacturing in Critical Historical Perspectives, part of the monograh series Studies of the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center.