Slobodan Milosovic donating to Kosovar refugee relief? Ivan Milat to victims of crime? The Howard Cabinet to a Nauru refugee kids’ Christmas party?

In 2000, the SIDS Foundation was embarrassed by Philip Morris support for Red Nose Day, since smoking along with prone sleeping position are the two stand-out causes of SIDS.

But can there be a better candidate for the most cynically calculated piece of charitable donation than British American Tobacco’s current public support of Guidedogs of Australia?

Smoking causes an estimated 8200 cases of blindness in Australia each year by accelerating age-related macular degeneration. There’s even a pack warning and a TV ad.

Rogue industries calculate that donating to unassailably worthy causes provides morally bullet-proof cover. The cheque’s in the mail and on with our day job, right?

Philip Morris has given to domestic violence, homelessness, Aboriginal health, and BAT to tsunami relief. Who would be churlish enough to ever question such donations, they reason. The recipients are often desperate and thankful, and unlikely to give immediate thought to where the money comes from. It’s the ends that count, not the means.

Precisely. BAT’s donation is a wafer-thin slice of its annual profit, drawn from its day-job sales of products which slowly send thousands blind. The company knew for years about the research on smoking’s effects on the eyes, but never warned its customers. Many parents teach their kids that charity should be anonymous, not a cause for self-aggrandisement. We should be all in favour of such industries privately and silently unloading their guilt money onto good causes. But would it be too much to ask BAT to spare everyone the applause?