Everywhere you look, Big Tobacco is proclaiming, "We've changed."
Number two global seller British American Tobacco brags that it has risen to
31st on the "2006 Companies that Count" listing, a British ranking
of supposedly socially responsible companies.
Proclaims BAT's Director of Corporate and Regulatory Affairs Michael Prideaux,
"If a business is managing products which pose a risk to health, we believe
it is all the more important that it does so responsibly."
R.J. Reynolds, which is now owned in large part by BAT, is a newcomer to the
social responsibility game, but trying to catch up fast. "At the core of
our beliefs is the knowledge that we produce a product with significant and
inherent risks," writes company CEO Susan Ivey in RJR's 2006 "Corporate
Social Responsibility Report." "With that understanding, our core
values and guiding principles speak to responsible marketing, our approach to
tobacco risk reduction and product stewardship."
No company can outdo Philip Morris on this front. "By the end of the 1990s,
our tobacco companies better understood the expectations placed upon them,"
the company asserts on its website.
"Corporate responsibility is a core business objective," contends
Andre Calantzopoulos, CEO of Philip Morris International. "From youth smoking
prevention to open discussion of tobacco issues to research into reduced risk
products, we're reshaping our company to meet society's expectations."
Philip Morris takes the idea of remodeling itself so seriously, it even changed
its name. No longer is the parent company Philip Morris -- now it is Altria.
But to get a glimpse of what Big Tobacco is actually doing (rather than saying)
around the world, you need to shift attention away from the industry's self-aggrandizing
The industry's "extreme makeover" was, in equal measure, mocked and
exposed at the "Tobacco Industry Academy Awards," held in conjunction
with the triannual World Conference on Tobacco or Health, which finished this
past weekend in Washington, D.C.
The awards ceremony was a biting parody (you can see video at http://www.2006conferences.org/26-media.php#),
but unfortunately all of the nominations and awards were based on actual industry
activities over the last three years.
The award recipients:
Best Ploy to Circumvent a Law: Imperial Tobacco. With Australia
mandating large warning labels on cigarette packs, Imperial innovated the idea
of "peel off" warnings.
Among the runners up: Philip Morris and BAT. Tobacco advertising is prohibited
in Senegal -- so Philip Morris has painted entire storefronts in its familiar
red-and-white. Among BAT's nominations was for its conduct in Uzbekistan, where
an analysis of internal company documents shows the company overturned legislation
that banned advertising and smoking in public places as part of a deal to buy
a formerly state-owned company.
Best Effort to Conceal Corporate Ir-Responsibility: BAT, for
providing free mini-stalls to sell cigarettes to Sri Lankan tsunami victims.
Among the runners up: BAT again, for providing a highly publicized water tower
to a town in Niger. The problem: It is a waterless water tower, with the pumps
that were supposed to fill the tower not connected to any electrical source.
Best Initiative to Recruit New Smokers: Philip Morris, for
a worldwide competition that brings young adults from around the world (chosen
from more than a million applicants) to Marlboro Country -- the U.S. West.
Among the runners up: Philip Morris, for sale in Malaysia of "kiddie packs"
-- packs of 14 cigarettes that are cheaper than a regular pack. A ban on kiddie
packs has been delayed at industry urging.
Best Exploitation of a Special Population: Gallaher's Benson
& Hedges. An uncovered training video for "tobacco girls" -- who
approach men "young and old" on streets and at bars and offer to light
a Benson & Hedges cigarette for them -- shows the young women being tutored
to start the day with a "good wash," followed by careful grooming
and application of makeup. A "good impression will be transferred to the
brand and international company you represent," the video instructs.
Among the runners up: Philip Morris, for hawking "Maori Mix" brand
cigarettes in Israel. (Maoris are the indigenous people of Aotearoa/New Zealand.)
Confronted at the company's shareholder meeting this past April, CEO Louis Camilleri
apologized to a Maori anti-smoking activist for the misappropriation of the
Best Industry Ally: Liu Xiang, an Olympic gold medal-winning
hurdler from China, is a leading image ambassador for China's biggest cigarette
maker, Baisha Group.
Among the runners up: The Bandung Municipal Administration in Indonesia, for
partnering with Philip Morris on a "school improvement" program, and
U.S. President George Bush for refusing to send the Framework Convention on
Tobacco Control to the Senate for ratification. More than 130 countries have
now ratified the tobacco treaty.
That last is the good news. For one thing has really changed about the tobacco
industry. Around the world, its legitimacy is declining and a growing public
health movement is imposing meaningful rules to curb industry predation.
Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based
Corporate Crime Reporter.
Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based
Multinational Monitor, and
associate counsel for the Consumer
Project on Technology. Mokhiber and Weissman are co authors of
the Rampage: Corporate Predators and the Destruction of Democracy"
(Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press).
Read from Looking Glass News
firms' subtle tactics lure smokers to their brand
Win for tobacco as Supreme court rejects appeal
slashes tobacco reparations demand by $120bn: Political pressure feared as prosecutors
ask for only $10bn
Oil, like Big Tobacco, talks sweet but plays dirty