Philip Morris International Commences New Plans to Spread Death and Disease

Philip Morris International today starts business as an independent company, no longer affiliated with Philip Morris USA or the parent company, Altria. Philip Morris USA will sell Marlboro and other cigarettes in the United States. Philip Morris International will trample over the rest of the world.

Public health advocates have worried and speculated over the past year about what this move may mean, but Philip Morris International has now removed all doubts.

The world is about to meet a Philip Morris International that will be even more predatory in pushing its toxic products worldwide.

The new Philip Morris International will be unconstrained by public opinion in the United States — the home country and largest market of the old, unified Philip Morris — and will no longer fear lawsuits in the United States.

As a result, Thomas Russo of the investment fund Gardner Russo & Gardner tells Bloomberg, the company “won’t have to worry about getting pre-approval from the U.S. for things that are perfectly acceptable in foreign markets.” Russo’s firm owns 5.7 million shares of Altria and now Philip Morris International.

A commentator for The Motley Fool investment advice service writes, “the Marlboro Man is finally free to roam the globe unfettered by the legal and marketing shackles of the U.S. domestic market.”

In February, the World Health Organization issued a new report on the global tobacco epidemic. WHO estimates the Big Tobacco-fueled epidemic now kills more than 5 million people every year.

Five million people.

By 2030, WHO estimates 8 million will die a year from tobacco-related disease, 80 percent in the developing world.

The WHO report emphasizes that known and proven public health policies can dramatically reduce smoking rates. These policies include indoor smoke-free policies; bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; heightened taxes; effective warnings; and cessation programs. These “strategies are within the reach of every country, rich or poor and, when combined as a package, offer us the best chance of reversing this growing epidemic,” says WHO Director-General Margaret Chan.

Most countries have failed to adopt these policies, thanks in no small part to decades-long efforts by Philip Morris and the rest of Big Tobacco to deploy political power to block public health initiatives. Thanks to the momentum surrounding a global tobacco treaty, known as the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, adopted in 2005, this is starting to change. There’s a long way to go, but countries are increasingly adopting sound public health measures to combat Big Tobacco.

Now Philip Morris International has signaled its initial plans to subvert these policies.

The company has announced plans to inflict on the world an array of new products, packages and marketing efforts. These are designed to undermine smoke-free workplace rules, defeat tobacco taxes, segment markets with specially flavored products, offer flavored cigarettes sure to appeal to youth, and overcome marketing restrictions.

The Chief Operating Officer of Philip Morris International, Andre Calantzopoulos, detailed in a March investor presentation two new products, Marlboro Wides, “a shorter cigarette with a wider diameter,”and Marlboro Intense, “a rich, flavorful, shorter cigarette.”

Sounds innocent enough, as far as these things go.

That’s only to the innocent mind.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Philip Morris International’s underlying objective: “The idea behind Intense is to appeal to customers who, due to indoor smoking bans, want to dash outside for a quick nicotine hit but don’t always finish a full-size cigarette.”

Workplace and indoor smoke-free rules protect people from second-hand smoke, but also make it harder for smokers to smoke. The inconvenience (and stigma of needing to leave the office or restaurant to smoke) helps smokers smoke less and, often, quit. Subverting smoke-free bans will damage an important tool to reduce smoking.

Philip Morris International says it can adapt to high taxes. If applied per pack (or per cigarette), rather than as a percentage of price, high taxes more severely impact low-priced brands (and can help shift smokers to premium brands like Marlboro). But taxes based on price hurt Philip Morris International.

Philip Morris International’s response? “Other Tobacco Products,” which Calantzopoulos describes as “tax-driven substitutes for low-price cigarettes.” These include, says Calantzopoulos, “the ‘tobacco block,’which I would describe as the perfect make-your-own cigarette device.” In Germany, roll-your-own cigarettes are taxed far less than manufactured cigarettes, and Philip Morris International’s “tobacco block” is rapidly gaining market share.

One of the great industry deceptions over the last several decades is selling cigarettes called “lights” (as in Marlboro Lights), “low”or “mild” — all designed to deceive smokers into thinking they are safer.

The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control says these inherently misleading terms should be barred. Like other companies in this regard, Philip Morris has been moving to replace the names with color coding — aiming to convey the same ideas, without the now-controversial terms.

Calantzopoulos says Philip Morris International will work to more clearly differentiate Marlboro Gold (lights) from Marlboro Red (traditional) to “increase their appeal to consumer groups and segments that Marlboro has not traditionally addressed.”

Another, related initiative is Marlboro Filter Plus, which claims to reduce tar levels. First launched in Korea, in 2006, Calantzopoulos says it has recorded “an impressive 22 percent share” among what the company designates as “Young Adult Smokers.”

Philip Morris International also is unrolling a range of new Marlboro products with obvious attraction for youth. These include Marlboro Ice Mint, Marlboro Crisp Mint and Marlboro Fresh Mint, introduced into Japan and Hong Kong last year. It is exporting clove products from Indonesia.

Responding to increasing advertising restrictions and large, pictorial warnings required on packs, Marlboro is focusing increased attention on packaging. Fancy slide packs make the package more of a marketing device than ever before, and may be able to obscure warning labels.

Most worrisome of all may be the company’s forays into China, the biggest cigarette market in the world, which has largely been closed to foreign multinationals. Philip Morris International has hooked up with the China National Tobacco Company, which controls sales in China. Philip Morris International will sell Chinese brands in Europe. Much more importantly, licensed versions of Marlboro are expected to be available in China starting this summer. The Chinese aren’t letting Philip Morris International in quickly — Calantzopoulos says “we do not foresee a material impact on our volume and profitability in the near future.” But, he adds, “we believe this long-term strategic cooperation will prove to be mutually beneficial and form the foundation for strong long-term growth.”

What does long-term growth mean? In part, it means gaining market share among China’s 350 million smokers. But it also means expanding the market, by selling to girls and women. About 60 percent of men in China smoke; only 2 or 3 percent of women do so.

The global vilification of Big Tobacco over the last decade and a half is one of the world’s great public health stories. Directly connected to that vilification has been a reduction in smoking, and adoption of life-saving policies that will avert millions of deaths.

Yet here comes Philip Morris International, now the world’s largest nongovernmental tobacco company. It is permitted to break off from Altria with no regulatory restraint. It proceeds to announce plans to subvert the public health policies that offer the best hope for reducing the toll of tobacco-related death and disease. The markets applaud, governments are mute.

What an extraordinary commentary on the political and ideological potency of the multinational corporation — and the idea that corporations should presumptively be free to do what they want, with only the most minimal of restraints.

Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, and director of Essential Action. Copyright © 2007 Robert Weissman Read other articles by Robert, or visit Robert's website.

8 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. level playing field said on April 15th, 2008 at 9:44am #

    What a load of anti-tobacco nonsense!
    Surely its about time the conspiracy theorists about tobacco being the root of all evil, came to their senses.

    What about the other side of the coin?
    What about the World Health Organisation and its pharmaceutical industry backed dictat? They lobby governments to change public policy in order to sell their drugs and treatment and gain control of the nicotine trade. Not to mention their using third world countries to test their drugs.
    NRT is the new tobacco and Big Pharma control it. They can sell their products direct to Governments, and receive free advertising and tax payer subsidies for their wares. And it has a 93% failure rate in stopping smoking. No wonder, if you enjoy nicotine why wear a patch when you can relax with a cigarette?
    And meanwhile Big(though considerably smaller in comparison) Tobacco are hamstrung by the Big Pharma sponsored conventions on tobacco control and other international legislation.
    Leaving Pharma to peddle other forms of nicotine and anti-depressants(xyban anyone?) that can kill alot quicker than cigarette smoking.

  2. David Atherton said on April 15th, 2008 at 10:21am #

    Mr Weissman, I trust you are well. In 1967 I sat in my school assembly listening to the radio before the Principal got up to impart wisdom to us. It was switched on to keep us quiet and the teachers to catch up with the news. On that fateful day, I think in early spring the news reader said that new resarch into smoking and lung cancer had confirmed the link by Professor Doll from the 1950’s. The reason I remember it so well is that my dad smoked and I was worried. My point is that there must not be one person in the world who is not aware of the dangers of ACTIVE smoking, including me who smokes. I may have some sympathy with the aggressive way Marlboro market their cigarettes, but at the end of the day 100% of smokers had, have and will have choices as to whether to smoke or not. I do not need self appointed narcists dictating to me my and other people’s lifestyles. There is no peace and social justice imposing your will on me or my fellow smokers.

  3. Mack Fricke said on April 15th, 2008 at 11:49am #

    400,000+ Americans will die this year from cigarettes. Yet somehow, not a single one died from smoking before warning labels appeared on the packages in the mid-1960s. I guess 3 years of law school are required to understand how this is justice.

  4. mandyv said on April 15th, 2008 at 1:35pm #

    Maybe the antis need to re look at Kitty Littles work. Just because you have smoke haters, it soes not mean cover ups for other industry should be piled onto the smokers. It is a national scandal, what is going on at the moment.
    Oxford’s cancer expert, Sir Richard Doll, writing in The American Journal of Public Health , said that increasing cancer mortality “can be accounted for in all industrialized countries by the spread of cigarette smoking.” Unfortunately, this statement tends to be believed, despite the evidence against it.
    If smoking were a cause of any cancer, lung cancer is the most likely one. It was Sir Richard Doll who implicated smoking in a study published in 1964 – despite his own published data from that study which showed that people who inhaled cigarette smoke had less lung cancer than those who didn’t!
    The real cause of lung cancer, according to another Oxford research scientist, Dr. Kitty Little, is diesel fumes. And the evidence here is much more persuasive. It includes the facts that:

    This makes more sense, than anything the antis have to say. We have the oldest living generation ever, who lived through the biggest so called “passive smoking” eras. But they were not subjected to the amount of pollution coming from so many vehicles, were they? for tolerant non-smokers and smokers alike

  5. Steve said on April 15th, 2008 at 2:50pm #

    “Dissident voice! a radical newsletter in the struggle for peace and justice” – WHAT???
    The title of this website is an INSULT to the genuine struggles for peace and justice. – Have you not realised that the debate has moved on – big tobacco are nowhere near as powerful as big pharma (as previous comments have already made clear). Your struggle should be against those manipulating pharmaceutical industries, the corrupt WHO , ASH and the masses of junk science that is being produced daily for those organisations. They have perpetrated the biggest deceiption in modern history for the benefit of profit and power – mistakenly referred to, by you, as ;- “one of the world’s great public health stories”. They have been aided by governments duped into enacting legislation that represents the greatest threat to freedom since Hitler.
    The ‘evidence’ proving that everyone is dying because of smoking and passive smoking is now seriously under threat by studies and science that have been hidden or ignored in the past – and new evidence that is appearing daily.
    Dissident Voice !! – Before posting pro-control government and anti-smoking propaganda – do some proper research of your own – then print the truth – or change your name !!
    No – I have nothing to do with any big pharma or big tobacco organisation ,in case you decide to use that to explain my disgust at your article. I am just an ordinary person who can see through the lies and deceipt, that clearly you cannot.

  6. John Concannon said on April 15th, 2008 at 3:35pm #

    Mr Weissman,
    What agenda are you working from. I have seldom heard such unsubstantiated claims that you write about. When you state that WHO estimate, then I have to assume that they don’t know and make up the numbers as they go along.
    This very unhealthy trend towards health faschism and complete disregard for civil rights let alone freedom of choice is an insult to humanity and is already causing social and mental health problems.
    Mr Weissman, please play your social engineering games somewhere else, we are really sick and tired of them.

  7. Raven said on April 15th, 2008 at 8:53pm #

    Maybe all those people died from smoking-related deaths because their health insurance wouldn’t cover treatment for a “pre-existing condition,” or didn’t have health insurance at all.

  8. joe said on April 16th, 2008 at 12:35am #

    I’ve not been this pleased with a group of responses to an essay for years. Thanks to each and every one of you!
    I’ve been in despair, thinking that the whole nation had been hypnotized by all this bs…
    Fortunately, I was wrong.
    Thanks again, you guyz…