As Last Week Tonight host John Oliver notes early in his incredible, 20-minute examination of the global battle being fought over tobacco advertising, the smoking rate in the United States has dropped from 43 percent in 1965 to 18 percent today thanks to strict laws outlawing cigarette ads. With America largely kicking its smoking habit, the tobacco industry has been forced to make up the revenues abroad, leading to court battles in countries like Australia, Uruguay and Togo, one of the 10 poorest nations in the world.
Oliver’s takedown also focuses on the extreme lengths companies like Philip Morris International are going to place their products in the hands of the youth, including a Marlboro-sponsored kiosk outside an Indonesian school where teens can purchase a single cigarette for a dime.
Countries have responded to Big Tobacco’s unorthodox marketing with laws that allow government to place grotesque images of smoker’s lung and blackened teeth on cigarette packaging, but even those measures have resulted in threats of billion-dollar lawsuits from the tobacco giants in international court.
One such battle is being waged in Togo, where Philip Morris International, a company with annual earnings of $80 billion, is threatening a nation with a GDP of $4.3 billion over their plans to add the harsh imagery to cigarette boxes, since much of the population is illiterate and therefore can’t read the warning labels.
To help bridge the gap between the Marlboro Man and a “lung that looks like you’re breathing through baked ziti,” Oliver introduces a compromise: “Jeff the Diseased Lung in a Cowboy Hat.” On top of that, to help get his version of Joe Camel off and running, Last Week Tonight has already put up Jeff billboards in the tobacco battleground of Uruguay and distributed Jeff T-shirts to some Togo citizens.
Last Week Tonight also featured a “How Is This Still A Thing?” dedicated to the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. Created in the Sixties as a way to preserve readership between sports seasons, the issue continues to be the magazine’s annual top-seller by courting controversy every year. But as Last Week Tonight asks, “Sure, at one point it was tantalizing to receive a once-annual printed magazine of scantily clad women, but do people not understand you can now just type ‘naked ladies’ into the Internet and see what Google throws at them?”