It must be quite a life being an executive, especially the CEO, of a big tobacco company, with the wealth they must accumulate from their huge salaries. Well, when I say quite a life, I mean quite a material life. I wonder, though, how their spiritual or psychological life is. Can you really be happy when you KNOW that the products you’re selling are the number one preventable cause of death, disease and suffering in the world?
In 2011, the annual base salary of the chief executive of British American Tobacco, which sells Rothmans cigarettes (among others), was £1,290,000 (about $2 million), though this appears to have been subsequently reduced to a meagre 1,000,000 GB pounds.
The BAT web site adds, “In addition to basic salary, the Executive Directors receive certain benefits in kind, principally: a car or car allowance; the use of a driver; the installation and/or maintenance of home security systems and private medical and personal accident insurance.”
Bloomberg Businessweek reported that the CEO of British American Tobacco received a total compensation of 6,492,000 GB pounds (well over US $ 10,000,000) in 2013 from his various roles as CEO of BAT and board memberships and connections with various organizations:
If you think that British American Tobacco’s CEO is doing well financially, you should know that the CEO of Altria Group, Inc, which makes Marlboro cigarettes, earned $12.1 million in 2012. His base salary was just over $1 million, and most of the rest came from stock awards:
What about the tobacco farmworkers? They’re the ones who harvest the tobacco plants before they’re processed into those addictive and toxic cigarettes and other tobacco products. They’re also the ones who are prone to injuries and other hazards of tobacco farming. Around the world, also, tobacco farmworkers are often children working under terrible conditions as child labourers, or migrant workers, or illegal immigrants, trying to make a basic living- trying to survive in a harsh world! Well, their salaries really stink! In Sardinia, Ohio, USA, for example, a tobacco farmworker earns about $17,000 a year (http://www.indeed.com/salary/q-Tobacco-Farmworker-l-Sardinia,-OH.html). A child tobacco farm labourer in a poor country may earn nothing at all, or he/she might just receive a free second-hand T-shirt, or might even be paid in cigarettes.
The bottom line is that only 0.3% of the income of the US tobacco industry goes to the tobacco farmworkers, and when you share that 0.3% among them, it’s not much. The remaining 97% is making somebody (and it isn’t the labourers or the smokers) materially very happy indeed.
A report in 2011 stated that tobacco farmworkers in North Carolina, USA, were working in disgraceful conditions. Of 103 workers interviewed, most were paid at the minimum US wage or less and only 11 were paid more than the minimum wage. Many workers were allowed only one break (lunch) daily, were limited in their access to clean drinking water and toilets, and lived in substandard conditions when they were not working. Many were also working without protective gear and were at high risk for Green Tobacco Sickness (see a previous post in this blog). Child labour, an abuse of a precious child’s human rights, was also common. And that was in the USA! It’s a lot, lot worse for tobacco farmworkers in many poor countries. Indonesia, for example, has 1.5 million child labourers working in its tobacco fields!
How can those tobacco company executives rest peacefully in their beds at night, or feel comfortable in their luxury cars while they’re being chauffeured around by their paid-for drivers? Well, I guess they have no qualms about what they do, but we can be certain that they really do KNOW the truth behind their evil empire.
When I practiced as a physician, I took care of many dying patients, and one things that struck me was that many people think back on their lives when they see the end is arriving and they often regret and feel severe guilt about the unpleasant things that they did. Sometimes I imagine what might go through tobacco executives’ minds when they reach their life’s end- the Great Equaliser, when material wealth and power have no significance any more- because there is no doubt that they KNOW how destructive their products are to human health and dignity. And they leave this world with their terrible legacy.