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New National Ad Campaign Asks Why Philip Morris is Changing Its Name, But Not Its Deadly Habits

Ad: 'No matter how often a snake sheds its skin… It's still a snake'
April 23, 2002

Washington, DC — Under a photo of a slithering snake, the headline of an ad running nationally this week reads 'No matter how often a snake sheds its skin… it's still a snake.' The point of the ad is that tobacco giant Philip Morris is trying to hide from its past by changing its name to The Altria Group, but it has failed to change its harmful practices, especially marketing practices that result in more kids smoking its Marlboro cigarettes than all other brands combined.

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The ad is sponsored by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association and American Lung Association. It is running in national newspapers as Philip Morris' shareholders prepare to vote on the name change at their annual meeting April 25 in Richmond, VA.

'Why is Philip Morris changing its name?' the ad asks. 'After decades of marketing to kids, deceiving the public and manipulating its products, Philip Morris now wants to hide from its past. But it can't hide this: More kids still smoke ‘Altria's' Marlboros than all other brands combined.' The ad's conclusion: 'New Name. Same Deadly Habits.'

According to the 2000 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, which provides the most recent data on cigarette brand preference among youth, 54.8 percent of youth smokers prefer Marlboro as their usual brand. Marlboro was by far the preferred brand among youth, with the second most preferred brand, Lorillard's Newport, lagging far behind at 23.4 percent.

A recent poll by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (conducted March 6-10, 2002) found that youth are far more likely to recall advertising for Marlboro than for other cigarette brands and that teens are three times as likely as adults to recall Marlboro advertising.

'This new ad is designed to be shocking because Philip Morris' behavior has been shocking. Despite a massive PR campaign to convince people it has changed, Philip Morris continues to have a corner on the youth cigarette market and should not be let off the hook for decades of deception and marketing to kids until it truly changes,' said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

In addition to Marlboro's continued popularity with youth, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids today released the following examples of ways in which Philip Morris' actions have not matched its claims of change:

  • Philip Morris claims that it does not want kids to smoke and it wants states to use their tobacco settlement money for tobacco prevention. Yet, Philip Morris currently is pressuring Florida to stop airing some of its 'truth' anti-smoking advertisements, which are part of one of the most successful state tobacco prevention campaigns in the nation.

  • While claiming to be changed, Philip Morris is continuing the tobacco industry's longstanding tactic of secretly funding front groups to oppose effective public health measures. In Florida, Philip Morris last week was exposed as the sole funder of a front group, misleadingly named the Committee for Responsible Solutions, that has been seeking to defeat a proposed ballot measure to ban smoking in indoor public places. Philip Morris took a similar approach in Washington state last fall in an attempt to defeat a cigarette tax increase that was overwhelmingly approved by voters in November. In that case, Philip Morris sought to hide its role by serving as the secret ghostwriter for materials distributed in opposition to the measure by groups such as the Korean American Grocers Association. Once these efforts were exposed, Philip Morris slithered away from the spotlight.

  • Philip Morris issued a report in the Czech Republic last year that sought to head off tobacco regulations by arguing that early smoking deaths have 'positive effects' because they save the government money. Philip Morris was planning to release similar reports in Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia when its Czech Republic report was exposed and it had to apologize.

  • Just this last holiday season, Philip Morris introduced a new cigarette, which it called 'A special blend for a special season,' but that was quickly dubbed 'cancer for Christmas.'

  • As soon as Philip Morris and the other tobacco companies agreed as part of the November 1998 state tobacco settlement to stop marketing to kids they increased their marketing expenditures to record levels in 1999 (source: Federal Trade Commission). Much of the increase was in venues effective at reaching kids, such as youth-oriented magazines and convenience stores. In fact, an August 2001 study in The New England Journal of Medicine found that Marlboro ads reached over 80 percent of youth in the U.S. an average of 17 times each in 2000. While Philip Morris since has stopped advertising in some youth-oriented magazines, it did so only after receiving negative publicity for its increased advertising in such publications after the settlement.

  • Philip Morris continues to engage in youth-oriented marketing practices overseas that are not permitted, or would not be tolerated, in the U.S. One report detailed Philip Morris' hiring of underaged Marlboro girls who offered free cigarettes to other youth and the company's sponsorship of concerts where cigarettes, along with cigarette-branded hats and t-shirts, were handed out to minors (The New York Times, 8/24/01).

  • The year after the state settlements, Philip Morris launched an aggressive and effective marketing campaign for its Virginia Slims brand targeted to ethnic women. It is no coincidence that 20 years after the introduction of Virginia Slims in the 1960's, lung cancer surpassed breast cancer as the leading cancer killer of women and remains so today. Today, Philip Morris is busy marketing to women overseas – a prime target because only about seven percent of women in developing countries smoke.

  • While denying publicly that it targets youth customers, Philip Morris' own internal documents reveal a long history of researching youth smoking patterns and attitudes and targeting youth as customers.

  • Philip Morris proposed changing its name after its $250 million-plus corporate image advertising campaign, which touts its charitable contributions, failed to change the company's negative image and the association of the Philip Morris name with deadly and addictive tobacco products. In January, Philip Morris ranked second to last, just above tiremaker Bridgestone/Firestone, in the third annual survey of corporate reputations conducted by The Reputation Institute and Harris Interactive.

The public health groups' new ad directs readers to a website,, where they can learn more about the company's deadly habits and take action to hold Philip Morris and the rest of the tobacco industry accountable for their harmful practices, including their targeting of children. Visitors to the web site can send a fax to President Bush urging him to fully fund and aggressively pursue the federal government's lawsuit against the tobacco industry, which is scheduled for trial next year. More than 30,000 Americans have already contacted the President through this Internet campaign since it was launched in June 2001. The lawsuit seeks to stop harmful industry practices and recover ill-gotten gains by the industry.

Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, killing more than 440,000 people every year. About 90 percent of current smokers took up the habit at or before age 18. Every day, 5,000 kids try their first cigarette. Another 2,000 kids become regular, daily smokers, one-third of whom will die prematurely as a result. According to a recent report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco use costs the nation more than $150 billion each year in health care expenses and lost productivity.

For more information about Philip Morris and their bad acts, see Special Report: Philip Morris Has Not Changed.