The Star Democrat
Philip Morris decries ‘hate speech’
Philip Morris International, the cigarette company responsible for perhaps millions of cancer cases around the world, placed a clever full-page ad in Friday’s New York Times appearing to take a bold stand against hate speech and urging an end to the vitriol. All well and good, except the ad is a thinly veiled attempt to put one of the world’s most deadly commercial enterprises on the side of goodness.
Let no one be under the illusion that Philip Morris represents anything other than greed, nicotine addiction and death. That’s the last thing that Marian Salzman, the company’s senior vice president of global communications, apparently wants Americans to think about. She signed her name to the text of the ad, which starts out promoting a healthy perspective on the growing divisiveness across the world.
“Globally, hate is on the rise,” she wrote, citing a global company poll in which 70% of respondents said the level of hate and hate speech in their countries has increased in the past two years. “This trend should not surprise us” Salzman adds, because “misinformation and disinformation abound, stoking hate and aggression toward those deemed unlike us.”
Then the ad takes a subtle turn, listing Philip Morris itself among the victims of hate speech. “Working in an industry that has long been reviled for its product, I experience firsthand how hate and exclusion stand in the path of change,” Salzman says, calling herself a “never-smoker.”
It’s those people who distort science and facts — you know, spreading “misinformation” about how Philip Morris sells products that are scientifically proven to kill people — who are getting in the way of dialogue, the ad suggests.
At the risk of fueling the company’s interpretation of hate speech, let’s review some facts about Philip Morris: It has been in the tobacco business since the mid-1850s, long before the deadly health effects of smoking were known. The company’s Marlboro brand has ranked outside of China as the world’s most popular cigarette, no doubt because of an aggressive ad campaign full of cowboys, horses and rugged terrain that equates smoking with manliness.
Big tobacco, despite a multibillion-dollar 1998 settlement to reimburse states for health care costs related to smoking illnesses, continues in business to make additional billions by addicting people to nicotine. Philip Morris could stop producing tobacco cigarettes immediately, but concerns about profits and shareholders and executive bonuses keep getting in the way. Greed, in other words.
The business is slowly pivoting toward smokeless e-cigarettes, which are probably less dangerous than tobacco but potentially even more addictive. And addiction is key to ensuring a steady stream of profits and executive bonuses for the foreseeable future.