Philip Morris weighed ending U.S. tobacco business-CEO
MIAMI, June 14 (Reuters) - The head of America's biggest cigarette company testified on Wednesday that the maker of Marlboros had considered exiting the U.S. tobacco business in the face of lawsuits now numbering more than 1,000.
Michael Szymanczyk, chief executive of Philip Morris USA, a sister company to Kraft Foods and part of global giant Philip Morris Cos. Inc., also told jurors in a high-stakes class-action suit that the company knew its own anti-smoking campaign aimed at teenagers may eventually kill its business.
``If that's what happens, that's what happens. That's the right thing to do,'' Szymanczyk said in caustic questioning by plaintiffs lawyer Stanley Rosenblatt.
The Miami jurors, the same six who last year declared America's big tobacco companies liable for the illnesses of a half million or more Florida smokers, will soon decide punitive damages in the Engle class-action that may total hundreds of billions of dollars.
Defence attorneys have said they want to convince the jurors that Big Tobacco has changed its cigarette marketing and other business methods and was already struggling with state-government agreements requiring an estimated $254 billion in payments through 2021.
Testifying for a third day, the soft-spoken Szymanczyk said that Philip Morris USA started a youth-smoking prevention operation after settling the state-government lawsuits and now spends about $100 million a year on television commercials and other anti-smoking advertising.
Szymanczyk said Philip Morris intended to keep selling cigarettes with an eye to reducing the harm they cause through research, its teenage anti-smoking campaign and distribution of information about the health risks of smoking.
``It is not our intention to go out of business. In fact, I've examined that alternative ...,'' he said. "If the company decided to exit the business, my determination is that simply opens another way that might result in a worse situation.
``From my point of view, I believe that the most responsible thing to do as long as cigarettes are sold in this country is for us to try to do whatever we can do -- in the context of a democracy where people have free choice -- to try to reduce harm,'' he said.
Szymanczyk said Philip Morris USA, vendor of more than half the estimated 4 billion cigarettes sold in the United States each year, was mainly competing with other cigarette makers for a shrinking market. He said U.S. cigarette consumption had shrunk 13 percent since 1997.
The roughly $1 billion Philip Morris USA spends each year promoting, discounting and advertising its Parliament, Basic, Virginia Slims and other cigarette lines was aimed at retaining current customers or luring rivals' smokers, he said.