12 January 2009

Tobacco giant comes clean

For the first time in South Africa, tobacco giant Philip Morris has stated publicly in a national campaign that smoking is addictive and life-threatening.

For the first time in South Africa, tobacco giant Philip Morris has stated publicly in a national campaign that smoking is addictive and life-threatening.

The campaign has involved placing advertisements in Sunday newspapers and leaflets at retail tobacco counters, with the intention, according to Philip Morris South Africa (PMSA), “to serve as a reminder to smokers about the health risks of smoking and other issues surrounding tobacco products”.

The advertisements and leaflets state that smoking is addictive and dangerous; that you shouldn’t smoke if you’re pregnant and that environmental tobacco smoke increases the risk of disease in non-smokers.

They also stress the importance of youth smoking prevention, and that cigarettes labelled “light” and “mild” do not protect smokers from the risks of smoking.

South African campaign not the first
According to Ulreich Tromp, corporate affairs manager at PMSA, parent company Philip Morris International has run similar campaigns in other countries previously.

The South African campaign has come at this stage because Philip Morris only returned to the country in 2003; in the 1980s, the company withdrew because of the United States embargo during the last decades of apartheid.

A hypocritical stance
"Big Tobacco" companies Philip Morris and British American Tobacco (BAT) stunned the world on both sides of the smoking/anti-smoking divide in 2000, when they made explicit public announcements agreeing that smoking is addictive and a health risk.

Philip Morris produces such top-selling brands of cigarettes as Marlborough, Chesterfield and Virginia Slims. BAT brands include Dunhill, Rothmans and Benson & Hedges.

The multinationals' ironic statement in 2000 came after decades of the companies continuing to deny and play down the health risks of smoking, long after the medical establishment had found irrefutable evidence for these from a huge number of studies.

The 2000 announcement was met with grudging approval from some international commentators.

Most anti-smoking and health organisations, however, felt that such a belated admission was not worthy of any kind of commendation, and that it was highly hypocritical given that these companies continued to vigorously promote their products.

Other commentators felt that it was merely a cynical business move on the part of Big Tobacco to win back customers - lost due to the efforts of the anti-smoking lobby.

Passive smoking still a sticking point
Although Philip Morris agrees that environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), also called ‘second-hand smoke’ or ‘passive smoking’, is a health risk, this is still a sticking-point for British American Tobacco, which states on its official website:

“The science on ETS and chronic diseases, such as lung cancer and heart disease, is in our view not definitive and at most suggests that if there is a risk from ETS exposure, it is too small to measure with any certainty.”

This is not in accordance with general medical consensus and the recommendations of public health bodies such as the World Health Organisation: that passive smoking does increase risk for many of the same chronic diseases for which smokers are at high risk.

- Health24, September 2006


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