Does Philip Morris Want to Stop Kids' Smoking?
Philip Morris and its corporate colleagues in the cigarette business have a decades-long record of being masters of deception when it comes to saying one thing and doing another.
The now infamous tobacco-industry internal documents that have emerged from litigation offer example after example of how the industry used diversionary tactics to keep the facts about the dangers of their product from the American people.
A good example of this practice is shown in the current issue of the British Medical Journal, which carries a letter from Carolyn Levy, senior vice president for youth smoking prevention at Phillip Morris. Levy maintains that her employer -- one of the largest producers of cigarettes in the world -- is truly committed to discouraging kids under age l8 from lighting up.
"We at Philip Morris USA share a common goal with members of the public health community: reducing the incidence of smoking by young people. One indication of my company's commitment to this effort is the creation of our youth smoking prevention department, whose sole goal is to help reduce underage use of tobacco," the letter states.
If you believe this, then you probably still believe in the tooth fairy.
In evaluating the Philip Morris claim that it wants to join in the public health campaign against youth smoking, let's start with one basic business reality: 90 percent of all new smokers today are underage. It is only rarely that someone over age l8 picks up a cigarette for the first time. Philip Morris needs kids to smoke -- just as much as cosmetic companies need little girls to try lipstick. It represents the future of the company.
If anti-youth-smoking campaigns were l00 percent successful, adult smoking rates would eventually plummet. Thus, in the interest of corporate survival, Philip Morris cannot possibly want anti-youth-smoking programs to work.
Indeed, Philip Morris probably likes working on anti-smoking commercials for kids. Armed with clever psychologists and motivation experts, surely Philip Morris knows that kids will instinctively want what you tell them they are not old enough to have.
Over the years, I have reviewed dozens of cigarette-company documents in which they claim they stand side-by-side with the public health community in opposing youth smoking. But consider just one major difference here: The public health community states clearly why kids should not smoke. It is a deadly, addictive habit, and it is particularly injurious to young people whose lung function has not yet fully developed.
But when tobacco companies are asked why they think kids should not smoke, they give one reason: "Because it is an adult habit." Adult habit? That is a relative term, which society can redefine at anytime.
In stating that they are against youth smoking, tobacco companies are involved in a public relations ploy -- and are most definitely not advancing any cause related to public health. Responding to Levy's letter, William D. Novelli, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids, summed up the dilemma perfectly: "The public health community has no goals in common with Philip Morris. Virtually the entire community worldwide distrusts any initiative by Philip Morris concerning tobacco use by young people."