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The battle against big tobacco hits the classroom

4822770407_f1a230b06c_bIn Malawi, children as young as five years old work in tobacco fields. Here, in the Silicon Valley, five-year-olds compete to attend top preschools. Stanford communications major Minkee Sohn highlighted that dramatic contrast with a parody video, “Fresh Recruits,” for a new Stanford anthropology class. Taught by Matthew Kohrman, PhD, the class, "Smoke and Mirrors in Global Health," aimed to raise awareness about the global tobacco industry and was the subject of a recent Stanford News article.

Simply acknowledging that "smoking is bad for you" is no longer enough to halt tobacco's spread. As noted in the piece, the tobacco industry remains a powerful global force and produces three times as many cigarettes as it did during the smoking heyday in America in the 1960s; it's also the source of millions of preventable deaths. Kohrman encouraged his students to develop original communication strategies and to take on hard-hitting issues, such as the use of underage labor.

For their final projects, Kohrman's class presented a slew of web-based videos, exposés and written critiques exploring little known facets of the global tobacco industry, including:

  • Chinese academia's involvement in the tobacco industry
  • Philip Morris' use of child labor in Africa
  • South Korea's flawed approaches to tobacco control

Overall, Kohrman, an associate professor of anthropology, deemed his experimental class a "great success." The course uncovered many little-known aspects of global tobacco, and taught students to "understand the sociocultural means by which something highly dangerous to health such as the cigarette is made both politically contentious and inert."

Alex Giacomini is an English literature major at UC Berkeley and a writing and social media intern in the medical school’s Office of Communication and Public Affairs.  

Previously: A call to stop tobacco marketing, Cigarettes and chronographs: How tobacco industry marketing targeted racing enthusiasts and How e-cigarettes are sparking a new wave of tobacco marketing 
Photo by Jo Naylor

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