If Philip Morris Doesn't Want Kids… | Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
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If Philip Morris Doesn't Want Kids to Smoke, Why is it Challenging Florida's Successful Tobacco Prevention Program?

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
April 17, 2002

Washington, DC — Philip Morris' attempt to pressure Florida to stop airing its highly successful 'truth' anti-smoking advertisements exposes the company's hypocrisy and duplicity in claiming that it does not want kids to smoke. If Philip Morris was serious about preventing youth smoking, it would not be fighting one of the nation's most effective tobacco prevention programs. As Philip Morris prepares to change its name to Altria, the company's actions in Florida show once again that its claims of change are just empty rhetoric. It is no coincidence that more kids continue to smoke Philip Morris' Marlboro cigarettes than all other brands combined.

In its letter to the Florida Department of Health attacking the Florida truth campaign, Philip Morris, the world's largest tobacco company, claims that its ads – both here and abroad – don't target kids and that it is committed to responsible marketing practices to adults only. But the facts show that Philip Morris, while professing change, has continued to engage in outrageous behavior both in the United States and around the world. Just a few months ago, Philip Morris issued a report in the Czech Republic that argued early smoking deaths had 'positive effects' because they reduce how much the government spends on benefits for the elderly. Philip Morris apologized only after being caught red-handed and its plan to issue similar reports in other countries was exposed. Other news reports have detailed the company's hiring of underaged 'Marlboro girls' to distribute free cigarettes around the world, including to other youth. Elsewhere, Philip Morris continues to engage in marketing practices now illegal in the United States, including huge billboards and clothing emblazoned with cigarette brand logos. In its Florida letter, Philip Morris also claims that it began placing health warnings in advertisements in African countries that do not require such warnings 'more than a year ago.' This begs the question, why didn't it act until worldwide public scrutiny became unbearable? Was it another example of Philip Morris changing its practices only when it had no other choice?

Florida's prevention campaign has been highly successful because it speaks the truth to kids about how Philip Morris and the other tobacco companies have targeted them and deceived them about the harm caused by tobacco products. In contrast, Philip Morris' ineffective 'Think, Don't Smoke' campaign offers kids no reason not to smoke. In just three years, Florida has reduced smoking rates by 47 percent among middle school students and 30 percent among high school students. This decline represents 75,000 fewer youth smokers. More than half of these kids would have been Philip Morris customers. Philip Morris objects to Florida's truth ads not because they are inaccurate, but because they work and they threaten the company's future profits.

The fact that Philip Morris hasn't changed can also be seen by its behavior in the United States. Philip Morris has been exposed as the sole funder of a front group, misleadingly called the Committee for Responsible Solutions, that has been seeking to defeat a proposed ballot measure in Florida to ban smoking in indoor public places. According to contribution records filed with the Florida Secretary of State, Philip Morris has provided all $360,000 raised by the Committee. Once exposed, Philip Morris on Tuesday gave up on its effort to put a weak counter-measure on the ballot, but recent experience in Washington State shows that Philip Morris can be counted on to continue to fight this public health measure. In Washington, Philip Morris this past year led efforts to defeat a cigarette tax increase that was overwhelmingly approved by the state's voters in November. In that campaign, Philip Morris first sought to hide its role by serving as the secret ghostwriter for materials distributed in opposition to the ballot measure by other groups such as the Korean American Grocers Association. Once exposed, Philip Morris adopted a lower profile, but it is now challenging the cigarette tax increase in court. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Philip Morris continues to spend billions marketing Marlboros using many of the same tactics and strategies that has made it the number one brand among America's children. These experiences demonstrate that Philip Morris has not changed at all, but is simply adapting its tactics to whatever it thinks will work to defeat important public health measures and undermine effective prevention efforts such as the Florida truth campaign. Philip Morris' strategy seems to be to get away with whatever it can until it gets caught.