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Philip Morris’ Reported Attempt to Exploit Marine to Sell Marlboros Shows Company Has Not Changed

Statement of Matthew L. Myers President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
April 14, 2006

Washington, DC — Philip Morris claims that it is a changed, responsible company that tries to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit. But too often the company’s actions continue to show otherwise. In the latest example, ABC News Nightline last night reported that Philip Morris sought to exploit the iconic photograph of a Marlboro-smoking Marine in Iraq to sell more cigarettes. According to ABC News, “The Philip Morris Co. wanted to pay Lance Corporal [James Blake] Miller to use his image on a commemorative cigarette case with a desert camouflage design, he says, but he declined, saying it wouldn’t be fair to his fellow Marines – especially to those left behind after being killed in Fallujah.”

A responsible company would have tried to help this young Marine quit smoking. Instead, Philip Morris sought to exploit his image in a way that would encourage more kids to smoke and discourage smokers from quitting. Lance Corporal Miller fortunately acted much more responsibly than Philip Morris in declining the offer. We hope the strength and courage that served Lance Corporal Miller so well as a Marine will help him in his efforts to quit smoking.

Philip Morris’ actions also are contrary to its claim that it does not use imagery or otherwise market in ways that appeal to young people. Like the Marlboro Man himself, an image of a brave, rugged Marine would be a highly effective way of preying on the aspirations of young people to sell them cigarettes. The impact of the powerful Marlboro imagery on kids is exemplified by Lance Corporal Miller himself, who told Nightline he began smoking at age 12 after watching a movie entitled “Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man.” A study published last month in the journal Tobacco Control found that Philip Morris’ Marlboros were responsible for more than 2.3 million deaths in the United States over the past 50 years and, if current trends continue, will contribute to another 1.6 million deaths in the U.S. over the next 10 years.

Philip Morris spends a great deal on television advertising about its supposed efforts to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit. But there is no scientific evidence that the company’s efforts are effective – in fact, there is evidence that they are ineffective or even counterproductive. In addition, the amounts Philip Morris spends on these programs pales in comparison to the billions the company spends each year to market its cigarettes, especially its best-selling Marlboro brand that has nearly half the youth cigarette market in the United States. Philip Morris should be judged by its actions, not its words, and its actions show that it has not fundamentally changed and continues to put profit ahead of life and health