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Stop PMI From Worsening Global Tobacco Epidemic

Stop PMI From Worsening The Global Tobacco Epidemic


By Bobby Ramakant

As World's largest tobacco company Philip Morris 'combined' hold their annual shareholders meeting on 26 April 2007 (in East Hanover, New Jersey, USA) to celebrate the tobacco giant's profitability, public health advocates say there is heightened urgency for governments to enact comprehensive laws to control Philip Morris and other tobacco companies.

Philip Morris' parent company has just recently spun off its Kraft affiliate, and there is now widespread speculation that Philip Morris International and Philip Morris USA will separate soon, which will have major public health ramifications.

"The proposed breakup of Philip Morris poses the risk that Philip Morris International will become even more predatory," says Anna White, Coordinator of Global Partnerships for Tobacco Control (GPTC). "An independent Philip Morris International, which is likely to be based in Switzerland, will no longer feel constrained by public opinion in its home country and most important market, the United States"

Last year, over 100 organizations in 50 countries asked Philip Morris International and its subsidiaries to make commitments -- in advance of a breakup -- to ensure that the separation of Philip Morris International and Philip Morris USA does not worsen the tobacco epidemic. To date, Philip Morris has declined to agree to these demands.

This year by 22 April 2007, more than 140 public health organizations in 65 countries worldwide had already endorsed a call on governments to adopt comprehensive tobacco control measures to ensure that the separation of Philip Morris International and Philip Morris USA does not worsen the tobacco epidemic. Among other measures, they are urging that governments ratify and implement the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, and ban the tobacco industry from lobbying or working on legislation to implement the global tobacco control treaty.

"An independent Philip Morris International based outside of the United States will be immune to even the possibility of domestic regulation in the United States or litigation in U.S. courts," said Anna White, of GPTC. Anna, who also represents the U.S.-based corporate accountability group Essential Action, further added that "This has been a real threat to Philip Morris International."

The litigation risk to Philip Morris International was recently made apparent in the U.S. government case against Big Tobacco. In that case, U.S . Judge Gladys Kessler ruled that Philip Morris and the rest of Big Tobacco must stop using misleading terms like "light," "mild" and "low" (as in "Marlboro Lights"). Big Tobacco has used these terms to deceive smokers into thinking they are using a reduced risk product, when they are not. Judge Kessler ruled that the prohibition on use of these misleading terms extends to Philip Morris International. If an independent PMI had no connection to the United States, the judge would not have been able to issue this order.

Philip Morris is the world's biggest tobacco multinational. Eighty percent of its sales are outside of the United States.

Anna White further elaborates that Philip Morris USA is prohibited from paying for product placements in movies and other media by the U.S. Master Settlement Agreement, but this does not apply to Philip Morris International. Philip Morris International states in its marketing code that it will not pay for product placement, but it does not address: indirect efforts to facilitate product placement; direct or indirect placement of unbranded tobacco products; or direct or indirect efforts to promote smoking in movies or other media.

Tobacco continues to kill more than 5 million people annually worldwide. "Tobacco is a uniquely harmful product, which kills consumers when used as intended; The World Health Organization projects that 10 million people will die annually from tobacco-related disease by 2030, 70 percent in developing countries," says Professor (Dr) Rama Kant, Head of Tobacco Cessation Clinics and International WHO Awardee (2005) in UP, India.

We therefore call on governments worldwide to ratify and strongly implement the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control – the first ever global public health and corporate accountability treaty which came into force and became legally binding on 27 February 2005. Presently 146 countries have ratified this global tobacco treaty.


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(The author is a senior health and development journalist, and member of Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals (NATT) and Global Youth Advocacy Network. He can be contacted at: bobbyramakant@yahoo.com)

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