If Philip Morris and RJR Don’t Want Kids to Smoke, Why Are They Spending $1.5 Million In Oklahoma to Defeat Cigarette Tax Increase?

Statement of Matthew L. Myers President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Oct. 27 2004

Washington, DC — Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds and other tobacco companies never miss an opportunity to claim they do not want kids to smoke. But their actions continue to prove otherwise. In the latest evidence that the tobacco industry always put its own profits ahead of children’s health, Philip Morris and RJR have contributed $1.3 million and $200,000 respectively to help defeat a November 2 ballot initiative to increase Oklahoma’s cigarette tax by 55 cents a pack, according to the latest campaign contributions report. Philip Morris is by far the biggest funder of the opposition to the initiative.

Philip Morris and RJR are well aware that studies show every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces youth smoking rates by about seven percent and overall cigarette consumption by about four percent. Increasing Oklahoma’s cigarette tax by 55 cents per pack would prevent some 27,000 Oklahoma kids alive today from starting to smoke, save 13,000 Oklahomans from smoking-caused deaths, produce $489 million in long-term health care savings, and raise $179 million a year in new revenue to improve health care for all Oklahomans. The fact that Philip Morris and RJR are leading the fight against Oklahoma’s cigarette tax increase shows that they cannot be taken seriously when they say they have changed and do not want kids to smoke.

In addition to opposing proven measures to reduce youth smoking, the tobacco companies continue to aggressively market their deadly products in ways that impact kids. According to the Federal Trade Commission’s latest annual report on cigarette marketing, released last Friday, cigarette manufacturers in 2002 increased cigarette marketing expenditures by 11 percent to a record $12.5 billion - $34.2 million a day. Nearly two-thirds of this total was spent on cigarette price discounts, which have the greatest impact on kids, who are the most price-sensitive customers. By fighting cigarette tax increases and spending so much to discount the price of cigarettes, Philip Morris, RJR and the other tobacco companies are keeping their deadly and addictive products affordable to our children.

Given their marketing practices, it’s no wonder that Philip Morris and RJR continue to sell the first and third most popular cigarette brands among youth smokers. Philip Morris continues to have a corner on the youth market, with 49.2 percent of youth smokers preferring Marlboro. Another 9.7 percent of youth smokers prefer RJR’s Camel. In recent months, RJR has been marketing candy-flavored versions of Camel, such as the coconut and pineapple-flavored Kauai Kolada and the citrus-flavored Twista Lime, and in 2001, it was fined $20 million by a California judge for advertising in youth-oriented magazines in violation of the 1998 state tobacco settlement’s prohibition on marketing to kids.

The opposition of Philip Morris and RJR underscores why Oklahoma voters should approve State Ballot Question 713 to increase the state cigarette tax by 55 cents a pack. The tobacco companies oppose the cigarette tax increase for the very same reasons voters should approve it: It will reduce smoking, especially among kids, save lives and save money by reducing smoking-caused health care costs. Only the tobacco industry’s bottom line will suffer.

 

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