Tobacco companies compared to al-Qaida

John Seffrin

John Seffrin

The head of the American Cancer Society last week called tobacco a "weapon of mass destruction" sold by profit-hungry corporations he derided as terrorist groups.

During a talk peppered with grim statistics and predictions about cancer rates that he warned will worsen unless more smokers stop lighting up, John Seffrin said tobacco companies "behave very much like terrorists and have been more successful than al-Qaida."

"Tobacco is the world's greatest weapon of mass destruction," Seffrin, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society, said May 15. "It will kill more than 600 million people alive today—half of them children."

His remarks came during a presentation for a colloquium series put on by the Stanford Global Tobacco-Free Research Initiative, the Center for Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

A spokesman for Altria Group Inc., the parent company of cigarette giant Philip Morris USA, declined to comment on Seffrin's remarks.

With 1.3 billion smokers around the globe, and Europe, the former Soviet Union and Asia reporting the highest smoking rates, Seffrin said tobacco is on its way to becoming the world's biggest cause of preventable death by 2030.

But he said more education about the dangers of smoking and increased regulations like smoking bans and higher cigarette taxes will help reduce statistical forecasts for smoking-related deaths.

"The hopeful side of cancer has never been more hopeful," he said. "It's the most preventable and most reversible health crisis facing society."