The Marlboro Man Ponies Up to Both Parties

By - Oct 1st, 2004 02:52 pm
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By Adrian Zupp

Tobacco giant Philip Morris/Altria put on its political party clothes recently, but it may soon be dressing for a wake. Under fire from the Department of Justice and facing the imminent implementation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the folks who gave the world the Marlboro Man and all the litigable deception and misery that rode with him, are working overtime to curry favor with the decision-makers in Washington, D.C. And they’re not too fussy about which side of the street they work.

At the recent Republican and Democratic conventions, Philip Morris, under the smokescreen of its strategically adopted parent company name Altria, threw a hundred grand in the kitty of each host committee. For partying’s sake. And for good measure, the “generous” people from PM/Altria helped grease the wheels of true democracy as the ancient Greeks intended it by throwing lavish parties of their own for some key political types.

Philip Morris/Altria spokesperson Dawn Schneider, quoted in the “Chicago Tribune,” explained how such events get into the corporation’s playbook. “The convention is really, practically speaking, an extension of our commitment to the political process,” she said.

Looking beyond the cutting-edge hors d’oeuvres and magnums of bubbly, one finds some illuminating possible motives for PM/Altria’s festive mood. The tobacco giant is facing a triad of industry-changing events.

One point of attack comes from the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the world’s first public health and corporate accountability treaty. Forty countries need to ratify the treaty to bring it into force and, in turn, completely change the way the tobacco industry can do business in those countries that ratify now or in the future. At the time of writing, 30 nations have ratified and the number is rising steadily.

Also wracking the nerves of Philip Morris execs is the Department of Justice’s $280 billion civil Racketeering and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) lawsuit that opens this month. The Justice Department is holding six major tobacco corporations liable for 50 years of industry attempts to cover up the true harmfulness of its products. The government is also contending that the whole time the industry was giving its scout’s honor that there was no proof that cigarettes cause cancer, it was actually sitting on a pile of its own evidence relating to carcinogens in cigarettes.

Which brings us to the third head of the hydra: a bill currently in Congress would give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulatory authority over tobacco. But this one comes with a twist. Unlike its smoky brethren, Philip Morris says it’s all in favor of this. After years of fighting FDA regulation, Philip Morris/Altria has reversed its position, presumably seeking to avoid liability for its deadly products and to secure government support for its marketing of a so-called “safe cigarette.” Health advocates remain skeptical and will be keeping an eye on developments.

Nevertheless, it all adds up to a time of serious reckoning for the world’s number-one cigarette maker. And one thing seems certain: The rules are going to change, both domestically and internationally, and the Marlboro Man will no longer be able to ride roughshod over the public he has duped for decades. Gone will be the easy access to young potential customers, the seductive advertising and slick promotions, and the good old days of swearing that smoking is harmless and not having to ante up for the lie.

With all that pressure, is it any wonder Philip Morris/Altria might want to throw a party or three to relieve the stress?

Adrian Zupp is an organizer for Infact, a nonpartisan membership organization that protects people by waging and winning campaigns challenging irresponsible and dangerous corporate action. More information at www.infact.org. Distributed by MinutemanMedia.org

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