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Sam Harris: Science Can Answer Moral Questions

Timely and provocative, here is Sam Harris on facts, values, morals and perceptions. Jump here for lesson ideas. Trigger alert (it’s Sam Harris): some raw issues discussed.

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Sex, Lies and Cigarettes

I came across this video via Steve Harton’s Hartonline Bio website and clicked on it because of the Indonesia connection. I’m glad I did, though it made me quite angry.

Aldi

Aldi

Having spent most of the last eight years in Indonesia, I have long been concerned about the ubiquity of the tobacco industry and the all-pervasive nature of the advertising. Everything – literally everything – is sponsored by tobacco. From TV and movies to sports (!), some schools (!!) and music concerts. There is no escaping the message that smoking is cool, good for you and leads to an exciting life.

So how did it get this way when the developed world is shunning the dangers of smoking?

This 40-minute documentary by Vanguard puts it all in context. From the viral video sensation of Aldi the smoking baby, to the simple, ruthless economics of exploiting a developing country and targeting their children as an emerging market, the film-makers lay it out clearly and passionately. It focuses too on the work of an anti-smoking action group who face the huge challenge of taking on big tobacco in a country where so much depends on it – it’s a major cash crop and source of income.

This video is a YouTube upload, but there are clips and resources on the official Vanguard page.

I loved the bit where the Miss Indonesia contestants help the film-maker crash the World Tobacco Asia conference!

Some questions and thoughts to consider when watching the movie:

  1. Near the end of the movie, there is a quote from Warren Buffett: “I’ll tell you why I like the cigarette business. It costs a penny to make. Sell it for a dollar. It’s addictive. And there’s fantastic brand loyalty.” Although he has changed his stance on tobacco, it neatly illustrates the bottom-line ethos of business.
  2. As a publicly-owned company, your main responsibility is to the shareholder – you must maximise profits. Discuss the ethics of targeting children in emerging economies as a market.
  3. Accepted science states that tobacco is addictive and harmful to human health. Why then has this not been recognised by the Indonesian government?
One thing I noticed that the film does not mention – in recent years, anti-smoking has started to take off and it is now forbidden to smoke in public transport and restaurants (still allowed here in Japan). Does this mean the movement is gaining ground? Time will tell.

For more good documentaries, have a look at Vanguard's website.

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