Chinese Opium Wars and American Cigarettes Boom in Iran

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In late years of Shah regime or maybe early years after his fall, I watched a Western made movie on Iranian TV which I have not forgotten its plot after two decades. I recall it had a part about “Chinese Opium Wars” when British were distributing free opium in Hong Kong harbor in order to destroy that nation among other things. I do not recall the movie title but it was made before 1985. It had a comedy-drama theme where someone with Chinese root and western education was trying to empower those demoralized people who were living in a corrupt society. (Please let us know if you know what movie that was.) 

Aside from that nostalgic movie, the historical documents show that in1839 Lin Zexu, a Chinese scholar and official during the Qing Dynasty pleaded with Queen Victoria of Britain to stop the opium traffic to China, and warned: “Your Majesty has not before been thus officially notified, and you may plead ignorance of the severity of our laws. But I now give my assurance that we mean to cut this harmful drug forever”. To ensure its immoral materialistic interests, British went to war with China and imposed many unjust treaties on that weak empire. Following the British, France , the USA, minor European states, and even Russia forced their own favorite treaties to the addicted and demoralized nation of China for decades to come. To find out more about “Chinese Opium Wars” see the following sources:


Opium Wars and Unequal Treaties 

WikiPedia Encyclopedia on “The Opium Wars


The Opium War (Yapian Zhanzheng)“, Chinese, 1997 

Tai Pan” directed by Daryl Duke in 1986 


The Opium Wars: The Addiction of One Empire and the Corruption of Another  by W. Travis Hanes, 1860.

Last night, I was reading a BBC report about American 2005 export to Iran which in brief was saying that: “In 2005, at least half of about 100 million dollar American export to Iran has been cigaretts which makes Iran the third largest exporter of the American cigaretts in the world!”. This a very sad and and shocking news by itself but would enraging if you know the following facts:

- The smoking rate has decreased by about %20 in the US while it has been increasing in the Iran.

- Iranian government officially imports many brands of American Cigarettes including Winston and Kent. These cigarettes are exclusively packed for Iran and bear the official seal of Iran. 

- The price a pack of say Winston cigarette in Iran is about 1/4 of its price in US.

- Teenagers can easily buy cigarettes in Iran from any corner including the street sellers. In the US, on the contrary, cigarettes are only sold by authorized shops and are under lock. The minimum age for buying cigarettes in the US  is currently 18 which is in the process being raised to 21 soon. These regulations are strongly enforced in the US and violators are severely prosecuted.

- These days smoking is considered something very bad by the society at large. Furthermore, it is against the law to smoke in public places including restaurants and the law is fully observed and enforced in the US.

- The warnings labels regarding the dangers of smoking is more pronounced on cigarette packages in the US than in Iran.

Smoking is the first stage of drug abuse and addiction. It has become much more expensive and difficult for a teenager to smoke in the US and as a result the smoking rate in general and especially among youth is steadily decreasing.

 In summary, it is mind boggling to know that in this time and age, the authorities in Iran are getting international rankings for spending the financial reserves of  the nation for importing for such serious health hazards and addicting materials from the US while the Chinese empire went to war with British to avoid dumping of their free opium on their people.

Let me know end this story on a high note by giving a personal story. My father has been smoking since he was 10 years old but he decided to quit over a year ago when he was 84 years old and he has been smoke-free since then. It is admirable act which shows if there is a will there will be a way. Congratulations Dad. You have done a great job and we are all proud of you!

Smoking was forbidden on Shirin Science Center premises since it was established about 7 years ago. Two years ago, a group of Shirin Science Center members started an initiative in Fasa which resulted in banning smoking in taxis which was very common before then. Last year, when I entered a car to take me from Fasa to Shiraz, I bluntly asked a smoking passenger to extinguish his cigarette. He did it immediately and apologized for it. Smoking is unwise to say the least. So if you come across a smoking person take a firm stand at least for your own health. They might not like it now but sometime they will be greatful for what you have done for them. 

If you come across any of the Iranian representatives, remind them that the 10-20 percent increase in the price of cigarrettes in coming year is rediculous considering the the international experience. Tell them that you expect them to show their sincerity by immediately increasing the price of cigarettes many folds and use all of the revenu for establishing centers to advance science, technology, art, and culture among the young generation.

By: Dr. Ali Taalebinezhaad

March 2007

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