Philip Morris gives mixed response to WHO proposals
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Philip Morris, the world's largest cigarette company, on Thursday told the World Health Organization it would cooperate in efforts to control tobacco use, but said it opposed some of WHO's harsher proposals.
WHO is working to assemble the first international treaty to curb tobacco use and ban tobacco advertising. A 240-page WHO report earlier this month accused Philip Morris Cos. Inc. and other cigarette makers of systematically working to ``undermine and subvert'' its efforts to curb smoking.
Philip Morris group companies, in a prepared statement to WHO, said they are willing to accept sensible regulations, but expressed concern over proposals that could end tobacco use altogether.
The company expressed its disappointment that it was allotted just five pages to present its views and that it will only have five minutes to speak at an upcoming conference.
``We do not think this constitutes a meaningful engagement of stakeholders or a commitment to public participation in the treaty-making process,'' the company said.
Philip Morris said some WHO proposals present a goal of a tobacco-free society, citing one draft alternative with an objective ``to put an end to tobacco use in any form.''
Philip Morris will support a draft ``designed to promote a genuine public health objective,'' but feels smoking should remain an adult's choice, David Greenberg, Philip Morris International's senior vice president of corporate affairs, told Reuters.
The New York-based company, whose brands include Marlboro, Benson & Hedges and Virginia Slims, approves of a minimum age smoking law for all countries.
The company urged the 77 United Nations' member states that do not currently have minimum age laws to enact them. It also supports national government cigarette regulation.
Philip Morris supported a number of other proposals, such as ``reasonable'' marketing and public smoking restrictions, but argued that some WHO proposals ``would directly impede adults' ability to smoke cigarettes.''
The company is against proposed treaty provisions such as: internationally determined tax rates; a limit on free trade and rejection of long-held international trade principles; complete bans on public smoking; total bans on marketing cigarettes to adult smokers; and health warnings with ``shock'' images designed to disparage smokers.
Philip Morris also repeated its request ``to work with the WHO and interested countries in a more meaningful and constructive manner on an ongoing basis.''
While some have suggested that tobacco companies should be excluded from discussions about the proposed treaty, Philip Morris asserts that tobacco should be treated like other industries, which have consulted with the UN on major international agreements in the past.
Philip Morris said talks with manufacturers and other related parties are ``critical to ensuring a workable global regime at the end of the process.''
The company's scientists are in contact with WHO scientists and Philip Morris would ``absolutely'' work with other tobacco manufacturers to reach an agreement, Greenberg said.
``It is possible that we will be the company reaching out the farthest and broadest for cooperation,'' he said.
Philip Morris said it will participate in public hearings the WHO plans to host in Geneva in October, but has not named a representative for the two-day event to give its five-minute oral presentation.