Groups Urged: Reject Philip Morris
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Smoking opponents say community groups should reject donations from Philip Morris Cos. Inc., accusing the tobacco and food company of using charity to curry favor with politicians and to deceive the public.
The American Lung Association, other health advocates and private citizens told a news conference Wednesday they were outraged by advertisements Philip Morris has been running to highlight its philanthropy.
Philip Morris owns the nation's biggest cigarette maker with brands like Marlboro, Benson & Hedges and Virginia Slims brands. It also owns Kraft Foods and Miller Brewing Co.
``The tobacco industry is using charitable donations to buy the good name and support of community organizations,'' said Pat Etem, spokeswoman for L.A. Link, an umbrella organization for anti-tobacco groups.
``By aggressively publicizing these donations, big tobacco is trying to convince the public they're now good corporate citizens, even though their product continues to spread disease and death,'' she said.
Etem and others accused the company of making donations to community organizations to enhance its relationships with politicians in key areas, who in turn might support tobacco interests in Congress and protect the industry from further regulation.
A Philip Morris spokeswoman denied those claims, saying the company is ''100 percent interested'' in government regulation of tobacco and has been talking with members of Congress about the issue. The company supports having the Food and Drug Administration regulate tobacco products, spokeswoman Peggy Roberts said, contradicting claims by the America Lung Association.
Attempts to authorize the FDA to regulate tobacco as a drug have failed thus far.
Roberts said the company has been an active donor for 40 years, but has not been public about it. The company hopes to better inform people about its philanthropy and let them know that Philip Morris is more than just tobacco, she said.
``We actually are hoping to promote awareness'' about some causes, such as domestic violence, Roberts said.
Etem lauded organizations, such as the West San Gabriel Valley Boys & Girls Club and the Democratic National Convention's local host committee, for rejecting Philip Morris' donations. A teen-ager from the Boys & Girls Club said the organization rejected Kraft Foods donations because they are Philip Morris products.
Allice Hua, 16, said she had a friend who had never heard of Philip Morris until seeing recent TV commercials.
``She's convinced that Philip Morris is a benevolent and good-hearted company,'' Allice said. ``What she doesn't know, is that Philip Morris is a corporation that also makes money - that makes a profit off a product that kills people.''
Roberts chastised the American Lung Association and others for asking organizations to refuse Philip Morris' charity when they, oftentimes, already have so little.
Roberts said the company has been fighting hunger and domestic violence, with recent donations being used to buy and renovate an apartment complex for domestic violence victims and to feed low-income AIDS patients, homebound seniors and a poor American Indian tribe in California.
Philip Morris has no plans to respond to the American Lung Association's campaign, which currently is limited to California, Roberts said. Requests for assistance far exceed what the company doles out, Roberts said.