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Western Michigan University Should Rescind Employer of the Year Award to Philip Morris

Statement of Matthew L. Myers President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
October 18, 2004

Washington, DC — We urge Western Michigan University to rescind its decision to honor the nation’s largest tobacco company, Philip Morris USA, as its Employer of the Year, an honor it is scheduled to award on October 21. A major institution of higher learning should not honor a company whose products cause so much death and disease in Michigan and throughout the United States.

If it proceeds with honoring Philip Morris, Western Michigan University will be honoring the company most responsible for the nation’s leading preventable cause of death. Every year, tobacco use kills more than 400,000 Americans and costs our nation more than $75 billion in health care bills. In Michigan, 14,900 state residents die annually from tobacco-caused disease and Michigan taxpayers pay out a staggering $2.65 billion to treat illnesses caused by smoking. Every day in the U.S., another 2,000 kids become regular smokers, one-third of whom will die prematurely as a result. Philip Morris sells more cigarettes to smokers in the U.S. than any other company. In addition, more kids in the United States – 49.2 percent of smokers aged 12-17 – smoke Philip Morris’ Marlboros than nearly all other brands combined, according to the federal government’s National Survey on Drug Abuse and Health. This is not surprising because Philip Morris spends billions of dollars each year to market its products, often in ways effective at impacting kids.

Philip Morris also continues to fight proven measures to reduce tobacco use. The U.S. Surgeon General and other public health experts recommend tobacco tax increases and comprehensive smoke-free workplace laws as two of the most effective measures for reducing tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke. Yet Philip Morris remains a leading opponent of such measures. For example, recent news reports detail Philip Morris’ role in working to defeat ballot initiatives in Colorado and Oklahoma to increase state cigarette taxes.

The decision to honor Philip Morris is an embarrassment to Western Michigan University and a slap in the face to the thousands of WMU alumni, students and employees who have lost family members because of the addictive and lethal cigarettes made by Philip Morris. Western Michigan University should rescind the “Employer of the Year” award to Philip Morris. A company that addicts children and ruins lives doesn’t deserve it.