Rodrigo Duterte, while eliminating drug dealers and cussing out U.S. politicians, has taken on a new enemy. The Philippines leader recently hit the worldwide tobacco industry by making it illegal to puff cigarettes in public areas of the island nation.
The news takes this old non-smoker back more than 70 years to World War 2 when I served in the Philippines. Our advanced Navy unit moved up in early 1945 during the retaking of the islands of Leyte, Samar and Luzon from Japanese occupation. We were in Manila when the war ended, stationed at the Fleet Landing Base along the Pasig River.
We were allowed to buy one carton of cigarettes a week, intended for personal use. That’s ten packs, a total of 200 cigarettes. Our carton price was 50¢. A carton today costs from $35 to $40. A non-smoker, at first I gave my cartons to other Navy guys. Then something happened to allow me to find better uses for the cigarettes.
Our riverbank tent camp had no fences, so it wasn’t unusual for local Filipino civilians and kids to wander in and out. As American troops were liberating Manila, the retreating Japanese destroyed much of the city and wantonly murdered thousands of civilians. One tragic result was homeless orphan kids.
I came up with an idea to help by giving them my ration of smokes. Because American cigarettes were still unavailable in Manila, the kids could get 50¢ downtown for selling each cigarette. I enlisted other Navy guys to volunteer their cartons. We helped some starving kids survive and, just maybe, learn some practical business lessons.