Jul. 10 2003
Washington, D.C. — Several of the nation's leading newspapers today included an advertisement by tobacco giant Philip Morris that essentially says "our products kill." Why is Philip Morris running these ads, as well as similar television ads? It isn't because Philip Morris has changed, nor is it because Philip Morris has stopped the marketing practices that have made its cigarettes so attractive to kids. Philip Morris' real intent is to create the illusion that it has changed in order to influence jurors and policy makers and avoid real change in its deadly products and harmful marketing practices. Philip Morris wants to be perceived as part of the solution to the tobacco problem when in fact it remains the major cause of the problem.
It is no coincidence that Philip Morris launched this ad campaign at a time when it faces significant legal, public policy, and business challenges that threaten its bottom line. The company has lost several major legal verdicts in the past year and faces trial next year in the federal government's lawsuit against the tobacco industry. States have enacted an unprecedented number of cigarette tax increases and smoke-free workplace laws, and Congress is considering legislation to grant the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate tobacco products. The design and placement of Philip Morris' ads – black and white text ads in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and The New York Times – betray the company's goal of influencing the behavior of jurors and policy makers, rather than changing the behavior of smokers.
Philip Morris' ads direct viewers to the company's web site to learn more about the serious health effects of smoking. But the ads and the web site leave out important facts about Philip Morris' central role in causing the tobacco epidemic, which is the nation's leading preventable cause of death, killing more than 400,000 people in the U.S. every year. Philip Morris doesn't tell you that it continues to have a corner on the youth cigarette market. More kids – 55.2 percent of all smokers aged 12-17 – smoke Philip Morris' Marlboros than all other brands combined, according to the federal government's National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. That's not surprising because Philip Morris is spending billions of dollars to market its deadly products, often in ways effective at addicting kids, while it is spending just a few million on its latest corporate image campaign. Much of the company's cigarette marketing budget has been spent on deep price discounts to undermine recent state cigarette tax increases, thereby making Philip Morris' cigarettes cheaper and more affordable to kids with limited incomes.
Philip Morris also doesn't tell you that it continues to oppose effective measures at all levels of government to reduce the harm caused by tobacco products. Philip Morris continues to oppose federal legislation supported by the public health community to grant the FDA effective authority to regulate tobacco products, while offering a loophole-filled alternative that would actually enhance the company's ability to market its deadly products and addict new customers. Philip Morris has aggressively fought cigarette tax increases and secondhand smoke protections, attacked Florida's successful tobacco prevention program, and ran a so-called "youth tobacco prevention" program that was found to actually increase the likelihood that youth exposed to the program would smoke.
If Philip Morris is serious about being a responsible company, it will end its marketing practices that addict children, stop opposing effective measures to reduce tobacco use, and join the public health community in supporting legislation to grant the FDA real, effective authority over tobacco products. Instead, Philip Morris continues to seek to buy political influence and conduct public relations campaigns.