Tobacco giant uses tactics to thwart tobacco control globally

Report: Philip Morris International's grabbing at straws
NEW YORK: As Philip Morris International (PMI) executives heralded the corporation's USD 27 billion revenues in 2010 at its annual shareholders' meeting, another not-so-welcome account of the corporation's activities was distributed to shareholders. Corporate Accountability International released a report called "Philip Morris International Exposed: Alternative Annual Report," documenting the human toll of PMI's profits and the range of tactics employed to grease the wheels for such earnings – tactics ranging from hiding behind front groups to litigation and intimidation of national governments.

"There may be 89 pages in PMI's annual report from which shareholders can judge this corporation's performance," said Gigi Kellett, Challenging Big Tobacco campaign director for Corporate Accountability International. "But to truly understand PMI's impact, you have to look at the enormous human costs it leaves off the ledger."

The report, published by Corporate Accountability International, exposes the externalized costs and corruption of the cigarette giant's business:

- Tobacco kills one person every six seconds – nearly 6 million people every year.

- On average, smokers lose 15 years of life and up to half of all smokers will die of tobacco-related causes.

- Tobacco use is leading to higher healthcare costs and lost productivity. Tobacco causes a USD 500 billion global economic drain that is equivalent to nearly USD 74 for each person in the world.

- For every dollar of PMI's revenue this year, health care expenses and productivity loss cost the world economy USD 7.39.

"The death toll is rising not only because PMI aggressively markets a deadly, addictive product, but also because PMI does everything in its power to obstruct tobacco control efforts," explained Bobby Ramakant, spokesperson for Asha Parivar in India and the Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals (NATT). "Its calculations around employing these tactics are all about dollars and cents, but the reality is that cost of the devastating effects of tobacco cannot be measured … individuals across the globe are telling PMI: it's time to stop."

In conjunction with the report release, advocates from around the country, along with a number of nurses with The Nightingales attended the annual shareholders' meeting to directly challenge CEO Louis Camilleri and PMI for its global abuses, and to tell PMI to "Butt Out of Public Health."

The report called attention to PMI's increasing focus on expanding its markets to developing countries where the tobacco epidemic is taking the greatest toll. Big Tobacco's death toll will rise to eight million people a year by 2030 - with 80 percent of those deaths occurring in the regions it is destructively targeting.

"Those countries, large and small, that refuse to be intimidated, are emboldening others to follow their lead," said Philip Jakpor, spokesperson for Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria and NATT. "PMI has sought to thwart progress, but civil society is standing resolute against their advances."

The global tobacco treaty, entered into force in 2005, provides a roadmap for countries to tackle the tobacco epidemic through a range of tobacco controls, from comprehensive ad bans to smoke-free places. 171 countries have ratified the treaty. Its central provision also safeguards the treaty against tobacco industry interference in public health.

But as the report finds, PMI continues to flaunt the treaty by employing a range of tactics to prevent its lifesaving measures:

- Litigation: Suing for profit, bullying governments. In 2010, PMI mounted legal assaults against countries attempting to pass or implement strong tobacco control measures. The corporation targets small countries with limited resources that may be unable to singlehandedly engage in expensive legal battles, such as Uruguay and Norway.

- Circumventing advertising bans: Selling a deadly product at any cost. PMI and its subsidiaries use marketing tactics that circumvent even the strongest advertising bans and regulations.  PMI clearly aims to undermine the intent of these regulations through its the sponsorship of concerts and sporting events, which are particularly attractive to youth.

- Government partnerships: Undermining public health laws. PMI lures customs agencies and other government entities into partnerships, claiming to be part of the public health solution. In 2009, PMI signed an agreement with the Colombian authorities and gave the government USD 200 million to "address issues of mutual interest." In 2010, as part of the 20 year agreement, PMI paid the Columbian government a total of USD 10.6 million.

- Front groups: Poorly disguised efforts to protect profits and influence policy. The tobacco industry often establishes entities that are funded and directed by corporations that act in the interest of industry. In Australia, tobacco corporations are bankrolling a media campaign by the Alliance of Australian Retailers to vocally oppose the government’s move to implement plain packs and to influence public and policymaker’s opinions.

Corporate Accountability International recommends that:

- PMI stop interfering in and obstructing the enactment of countries' health policies that will save lives.

- PMI honor the legally binding WHO FCTC treaty ratified by more than 170 countries.

- PMI stop manipulative marketing targeting children and youth.

- PMI stop using litigious scare tactics to intimidate countries from passing health and marketing policies.

- Governments and civil society continue to stand up to Big Tobacco and implement and enforce provisions protecting public health from industry interference.


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