Why Big Tobacco's Contribution To Anti-Smoking Campaign Isn't As Self-Destructive As It Seems
“Altria, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Lorillard, and Philip Morris USA intentionally designed cigarettes to make them more addictive” — according to new ads sponsored by Altria Group Inc (NYSE: MO) and British American Tobacco PLC (ADR) (NYSE: BTI).
Yes, it’s strategically backward, but no, it’s not masochistic.
The counter-intuitive commercial is part of a court order issued after the Department of Justice sued cigarette companies in 1999 for propagating falsehoods about tobacco’s health effects. The manufacturers will now pay for a year’s worth of corrective public service announcements.
Beginning in November, they’ll run court-mandated texts on primetime cable ads for 30 to 45 seconds five days a week. Similar messages will appear in full-page newspaper ads, on company websites and on cigarette package inserts.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Altria expects to spend $31 million on the campaign, which said: "More people die every year from smoking than from murder, AIDS, suicide, drugs, car crashes, and alcohol, combined.”
Anti-smoking campaigns have been occasional beneficiaries of tobacco lawsuits and have gleaned more than $1 billion from such settlements, according to the WSJ.
Their ironically funded marketing compounds the efforts of an anti-smoking foundation established and sustained through similar financing. Through the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement, tobacco companies agreed to contribute billions of dollars to smoking-related public education in exchange for immunity from state-filed lawsuits.
Contributions to anti-smoking movements aren’t always mandated.
Philip Morris International Inc. (NYSE: PM), the producer of Marlboro cigarettes, voluntarily committed $80 million annually for the next 12 years to support a campaign against burn-based smoking. Despite its increased investment in vaping and e-cigarettes, the tobacco giant’s mission fundamentally opposes that of the Foundation For A Smoke-Free World.
Notably, the donation sets Philip Morris back just 0.1 percent of revenues and 1 percent of profits, and it situates the firm for strategic influence.
The Real Motive?
Philip Morris is the only contributor to the foundation thus far, and cancer experts have expressed fears that the firm may leverage its position to sway the foundation’s research.
“I’d prefer research completely independent from industry,” Cancer U.K.’s Linda Bauld told the Financial Times.
The firm’s history of undermining anti-smoking efforts calls to question the sincerity of its campaign commitments. Reuters recently revealed a secret strategy by Philip Morris to subvert the World Health Organization’s anti-smoking treaty.
“There’s deep skepticism among tobacco control experts and tobacco researchers about this new initiative,” Jennifer Tidey, associate professor of behavioral and social sciences at Brown University, told Healthline. “Tobacco companies are definitely driven by a profit motive. And they have a long track record of deception and lies in order to sell this product.”
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