Philip Morris International Spin-off Should Spur Nations To Take Urgent Action to Reduce Tobacco Use

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

Jan. 29 2008

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The expected spin-off of Philip Morris International as a separate company, and the company’s predatory plans to market an even greater variety of deadly and addictive products around the world, should set off global alarms and spur nations to urgently implement proven measures to reduce tobacco use and save lives.

Nations are in a race against time to stop a global tobacco epidemic that will kill one billion people worldwide this century unless urgent action is taken. Philip Morris International and other tobacco companies are moving relentlessly to exploit new markets and find new customers for their deadly products, especially in developing nations. Governments must act even more quickly and aggressively to protect the health of their citizens.

Parent company Altria on Wednesday is expected to announce the exact timing of the Philip Morris International spin-off. Financial analysts view the spin-off as an effort to escape greater public scrutiny and legal and public health constraints in the United States and other developed nations, where smoking rates have been declining, and to aggressively target developing nations.

It is especially disturbing that Philip Morris International, as reported today by The Wall Street Journal, is planning to introduce a barrage of new tobacco products that are aimed at specific countries and markets and in some cases are deliberately designed to circumvent efforts to reduce tobacco use.

One new cigarette undermines laws requiring smoke-free workplaces and public places by providing a quicker way to get a nicotine hit, while others use fancier packaging to get around marketing restrictions. Philip Morris International is also reported to be planning to introduce more sweet-flavored products, a tactic that tobacco industry documents reveal has long been used to mask the harshness of tobacco products and make them more appealing to new users, especially children. Marlboro Mix 9, a cigarette the company introduced last year in Indonesia, is reported to expose smokers to higher levels of toxic tar and addictive nicotine.

While Philip Morris International proudly touts these moves as business decisions that will boost its bottom line, many countries and families around the world will pay a high price in more death and disease and higher health care costs. These actions shatter the illusion that Altria and the Philip Morris companies have sought to foster in the United States and other countries that they are responsible companies.

To protect their citizens from the predatory practices of Philip Morris International and other tobacco companies, nations should quickly and effectively implement the scientifically proven measures called for by the international tobacco control treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. To date, 152 nations have ratified the treaty.

Nations should:

  • increase tobacco taxes;
  • ban all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorships and misleading cigarette descriptions such as “light” and “low-tar”;
  • require large, graphic health warnings on tobacco products;
  • enact 100 percent smoke-free laws that apply to all workplaces and public places and protect all nonsmokers from secondhand smoke; and
  • fund and implement effective tobacco public education and cessation programs.

The relentless pursuit of new markets and customers by Philip Morris International and other tobacco companies is a primary reason why the tobacco epidemic is exploding around the world, especially in developing countries. Five million people will die worldwide this year because of tobacco.

That number is projected to double in the coming decades, with more than 70 percent of these deaths in developing nations. However, if adult cigarette consumption is reduced by 50 percent worldwide, nations can avert more than 300 million needless deaths from tobacco around the world within the next 50 years.

The Philip Morris International spin-off is a reminder that the time for nations to act is now.

 

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