Philip Morris Admits Smoking Deadly
GENEVA (AP) - Major tobacco companies have admitted to the World Health Organization that cigarettes are addictive and harmful, but have said they will resist tough global controls.
Phillip Morris Executive Dave DaviesTwo-days of public hearings on a planned new international convention to control tobacco wrap up Friday with evidence from more than 60 organizations including Japan Tobacco and Philip Morris International.
``We agree that smoking is addictive and causes disease in smokers,'' David Davies, vice president of corporate affairs of Philip Morris Europe, said during a news conference Thursday.
It was one of the most explicit admissions to date by a Philip Morris executive that cigarette smoking is not a matter of free choice. Under pressure from a rising tide of lawsuits, the tobacco giants have tended to argue that, although difficult, adults should still be able to quit.
A senior British American Tobacco official also conceded that cigarettes were addictive and the Chinese National Tobacco Corp. said under questioning from a WHO panel that its products were harmful to health.
Anti-smoking campaigners dismissed the professed health concerns as mere public relations hype.
``The tobacco industry will stop at nothing,'' said Matt Myers of the U.S. based Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. ``It has staged the most devastating cover-up of scientific evidence. It has preyed on our kids and lied to the governments. It has manipulated nicotine and our political system.''
Myers joined leading U.S. cancer, lung and heart specialists in urging the Clinton administration to take the lead in pushing for a tough global convention.
``It is no more acceptable to allow Philip Morris and the other tobacco companies to addict children and spread disease and death in Asia, Africa, Latin America than it is in the United States,'' the American health groups said in a joint statement.
This was echoed by delegations from developing countries.
``While tobacco companies have admitted causing lung cancer in the United States, it is business as usual in Asia,'' said Mary Assunta of Consumers Association of Penang (Malaysia).
Negotiations start Monday between WHO's 191 member governments on the nitty gritty of the proposed treaty. Current options include a total ban on advertising and sponsorship by tobacco companies; tougher measures to prevent young people from starting to smoke; bans on smoking in public places; tax hikes to make cigarettes more expensive and measures to discourage production.
The anti-smoking drive is one of WHO's top priorities as the ill effects of cigarettes are linked to more than 4 million deaths per year. The toll is expected to rise to a forecast 10 million annually by 2030 because of an explosion in disease in places like China, where 70 percent of men smoke.
In speeches to the conference, tobacco industry representatives all stressed their desire to work with WHO on issues like underage smoking. And while industry representatives tried to be nice about the proposed convention, their bottom line was clear: international regulation should be limited.
``The challenge for us all is to develop regulatory regimes around the globe that recognize the tension between public health goals of eliminating smoking altogether and the right of responsible manufacturers to sell, and adults to consume a legal product,'' said Davies, of Philip Morris.
BAT's head of science and regulation, Christopher Proctor, made it plain that WHO should not overstep its responsibilities.
``The vast majority of regulatory steps in the manufacture, sale, promotion and use of tobacco can only work at national level,'' he said. ``Human beings have used tobacco for thousands of years. Today, with near-universal awareness of the health risks, a billion adults choose to smoke.''
Still, Proctor - who said he smoked 20 cigarettes a day and so could be classed as addicted - said that ``as a parent, I don't want my children to smoke.''
Anti-tobacco campaigners were cynical about the companies' professed concern about children smoking.
``Philip Morris shouldn't be believed when it says it doesn't want kids to smoke until it eliminates the Marlboro cowboy which has made Marlboro the most popular brand worldwide,'' said Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.