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Should refugees be given cigarettes by aid agencies?

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In previous world wars, the Red Cross distributed cigarettes to soldiers. The Kosovar refugee crisis has seen this issue rise again, when the Red Cross refused to distribute directly cigarettes and other government agencies took over the role. Tobacco control activists have been drawn into the debate. In June, a correspondent to Globalink wrote: “To put soldiers at additional danger by encouraging their smoking during times of stress and war is extremely exploitative and should be strongly discouraged . . . All offers of free cigarettes for soldiers/refugees or any group of people under stressful conditions needs to be determinedly discouraged and stopped as a practice. It is yet again a very transparent means of getting recruits to smoking addiction.”

The issue of smoking by refugees and others in dire circumstances, and the tobacco control community's ways of participating in the debates that arise here, deserve debate. Refugees are people who typically are fleeing horrendous circumstances like war or racial persecution. They arrive in host nations or in camps usually without any resources, often having had loved ones killed, and sometimes being tortured. Civilised societies give them support in the form of food, clothing, and shelter and some comforts and small luxuries. Sometimes these people are smokers and well meaning aid workers have provided them with cigarettes.

Below we reprint an exchange between Stan Shatenstein, editor of Canada's Tobacco News Online, and Mark Steyn, columnist for theNational Post. We invite your comments via our eletters.—ED

From Stan Shatenstein, Tobacco News Online, Montreal. First published as a letter to theToronto Sun May 22, 1999.

Truth—that eternal first casualty of war—has again gone up in smoke and, this time, Sun columnist Connie Woodcock has lit the match. In an attempt to bring succour to the Kosovar refugees at …

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