Smoke Gets in Her Eyes


“Now laughing friends deride
Tears I cannot hide
Oh, so I smile and say
When a lovely flame dies
Smoke gets in your eyes
Smoke gets in your eyes.”*

Our former Prime Minister recently became the butt of some outside smoko jokes when the 2012 World Business Development Award, supported by the United Nations Development Agency headed by Helen Clark, was given to a company which derives a big wad of its profits from tobacco trading and cigarette manufacturing.

Near Riot in Rio

I don’t know whether it was a smoke free environment and Clark did not present the award but she did attend the ceremony at the ongoing Rio+20 United Nations Summit in Brazil when ITC, India’s largest cigarette maker and tobacco trader, (née Indian Tobacco Company) won a prize for improving the environment and removing poverty, to her belated shock and horror.

ITC’s chairman, Y C Deveshwar, accepted the award: “… with humility and pride, on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of tribals and poor farmers whose lives have been transformed by ITC’s Social and Farm Forestry initiative…”

New Dow Index

Indian writer Pranay Lal from the (other) USA- Union Southeast Asia, a lobby group fighting tuberculosis and lung disease- said the award was “possibly the biggest travesty of justice even by the UN and the World Bank’s weak ethical standards…. ”  He asked why the UN, the World Bank or even the World Health Organisation continue to partner and recognise perverse industries like tobacco companies and then answered his own question: “The answer is simply – money. Starved of public financing, the UN agencies rely upon ‘voluntary’ contributions like donors, private philanthropies and companies…WBCSD is a curious club of organisations ranging from the most wanted corporate criminals (Dow Chemicals) to good Samaritans (Infosys).

In the wake of the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster industrial Big Brother Dow is undertandably reviled in India after up to 12,000 people died.

“What is tragic is that Helen Clark, a responsible prime minister and wife of a respected public health expert could not have given this award in New Zealand or any other developed country.” Lal said.

No Ifs—No Butts…

Back in the New York the Rio brio had quickly evaporated. Under a nicotine cloud Clark released a belated statement to explain her position: “I have worked tirelessly throughout my career to achieve a smoke free society in New Zealand, and was, thus, shocked to learn that a World Business Development Award, supported by UNDP, was given to a company which derives a substantial proportion of its profits from tobacco,Unfortunately the criteria for the World Business Development Awards did not exclude projects implemented by companies from certain sectors like tobacco. This has clearly been a serious oversight. ”

Clark said UNDP would review its rules and regulations and ensure than an incident like it never happened again. “UNDP will not participate in these awards in the future unless companies like this are excluded,” Clark said. “I retain my strong commitment to anti-tobacco policies and will continue to fight for the health and well-being of citizens in New Zealand and around the world.”

In January 2008 Clark had won the United Nations Environment Programme Champions of the Earth award in recognition of the New Zealand’s government’s promotion of sustainability initiatives.

The Simpson

With the redoubtable Helen Simpson, Clark’s chief Government minder, accompanying her to the UN job, there are some obvious questions as to why the pre-awards smokescreen was so impenetrable. If Clark, ranked by Forbes the 61st most important woman in the world (now 62nd after Mahe Drysdale’s mother), wasn’t forewarned before the awards ceremony there must have been some immediate local cooling when she discovered that, as the holder of the the third-highest UN position, she had been dropped in it by her UNDP colleagues.

Conversely, if she’d been given a heads up before the ceremony then she was in danger of falling down a large pothole in Tobacco Road of her own digging. The First Law of Holes is when you are in one stop digging. In her domestic political career she was much more adept than the late Muammar Gadaffi at avoiding self-dug ditches in which to die.

Smoking Like Chimneys

Smoke and mirrors used to be the staple diet of politicians. Kiwi Keith Holyoake was an inveterate private puffer, in allegiance to his Motueka electorate. Nowadays the mirrors are spun fast enough not to need a smokescreen, though when they are replayed in slomo they can be very revealing, as British Prime Minister David Cameron is discovering to his discomfort as the media hacking hooha continues.

Last week’s Olympic opening ceremony in London featured prefabricated smoking chimneys, rising to the heavens in front of the eyes of spectators, to portray the industrial revolution and England’s role in it. Yesterday’s photo of the city’s irrepressible mayor, suspended stationary on a zip wire clutching two Union Jacks, was equally if unintentionally symbolic of the country’s post-industrial decline, though Boris’ stuck zip didn’t seem to deflate his Olympian optimism.

Smoke on the Water*

The platform for industrialisation was earlier laid by globe trotting English merchants who, among other things, dabbled in tobacco. The weed had already long been used in the Americas when European settlers arrived.Many Native American tribes traditionally used tobacco. It was believed that it was a gift from the Creator and that the exhaled tobacco smoke carried one’s thoughts and prayers to heaven.

Eastern North American tribes carried large amounts of tobacco in pouches as a readily accepted trade item, and often smoked it in peace pipes, either in sacred ceremonies, or to seal a deal. Bargain. They smoked it at all life passages from childhood on. This solemn custom has been revived by some Kiwi parents who reportedly give their children tobacco as a reward for doing homework*.

The Spanish introduced tobacco to Europe in about 1518 and the English helped spread its use as a health potion. Since the sixteenth century tobacco has been farmed sustainably in many parts of the world, including India. Tobacco growth and cigar and cigarette production spread like wildfire to different parts of the British empire in order to keep the home fires burning and to fuel tobacconalian activities.

Roll your own Chernobyl

The harmful effects of tobacco took a long time to penetrate public awareness and rise on the political agenda. Those effects arise from the thousands of different compounds generated in the smoke, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons such as benzpyrene, formaldehyde, cadmium, nickel, arsenic and radioactive polonium-210.

In 2003, in response to growth of tobacco use in developing countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) successfully convinced 168 countries to sign the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The Convention is designed to push for effective legislation and enforcement in all countries to reduce the harmful effects of tobacco.  Tobacco cessation products were developed to reduce the smoking chewing, snuffing, or dipping of tobacco.

Clearing the air

When she was still Prime Minister Forbes had ranked Helen Clark 20th most powerful woman in the world in 2006. UN agencies are obviously trickier beasts to corral than even the New Zealand Labour Party.

The tobacco smoke free campaign under the fourth Labour government certainly cleaned up cafes, pubs and restaurants in New Zealand. Clark confirmed earlier this year before the Rio imbroglio that she would be seeking another four year term as Administrator of the UNDP.

If she is successful she will be doubly determined to clear the air globally before she reaches the fag-end of her international career.

*BLINKS Rec Smoke Gets in Your Eyes The Platters Rec Smoke on the Water Deep Purple-(Keyboardist Jon Lord, died last month).

#Lyall Lukey 4 August2012 My other (bit more serious) blog



3 Responses to “Smoke Gets in Her Eyes”

  1. 1 corallyn newman

    a bit laboured

  2. 2 Den Cook

    Well done Lyall. i agree with every word, even though I still puff the horrible weed.

  3. I really enjoyed your comments, but there are 2 topics that warrant further attention:
    1. Tobacco—Helen Clark deserves all she received. Isn’t it time we focussed on continuing education instead of nanny-staters controlling our every move. (FYI—I completely agree with legislating against individuals inflicting their smoke on others in enclosed spaces, but in Ottawa they’re over the top. Now smokers can’t even light up outside anymore on public property.)
    2. The UN—Is it not time to leave it to the dictators and terrorists that control it—and that list countries like Canada as among the worst abusers of human rights? The “Western World” needs a new forum and to stop funding the morally bankrupt UN—especially when most of its members are on a mission to destroy the “West”.
    Gordon Miller

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