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Philip Morris USA's "Could your kid be smoking?"

August 30, 2005   John R. Polito

Cover - Philip Morris USA's Could your kid be smoking?

Philip Morris USA has just released its third pamphlet in its ongoing corporate responsibility blame transference campaign. Entitled, "Could your kid be smoking," it provides practical tips in identifying adolescent smokers while totally ignoring Philip Morris' role in hooking them, and providing zero meaningful assistance in setting them free.

In terms of more clearly defining dependency, this new sixteen-page image marketing tool is a vast improvement over Philip Morris' two previous booklets, "Raising kids who don't smoke" and "Peer pressure and smoking." Not once does it muddy a child's mind by leaving them with the impression that smoking is nothing more than a nasty little "habit."

On the dependency downside, Philip Morris missed yet another golden opportunity to clearly warn youth just how amazingly captivating smoking nicotine actually is. Using such nondescript phrases as "tobacco is addictive," "smoking is addictive," and "addicted to nicotine," youth readers are left in darkness as to whether smoking is rarely addictive, sometimes addictive, extremely addictive, and as to what the word "addictive" actually means.

The booklet stops short of sharing meaningful risk assessment information such as the fact that up to two-thirds of first-time youth smokers will become chemically dependent. It omits recent risk data showing that 86.8% of students smoking nicotine at least once daily are already hooked solid using dependency standards contained in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, 4th Edition.

Philip Morris continues to fail to mention physical brain alterations such as the desensitization which occurs when chronic nicotine presence causes the brain to grow millions of nicotinic receptors in eleven different regions.

Although providing zero practical quitting advice, Philip Morris could not resist candy-coating smoking relapse by titling a section "Be prepared for slips." It tells youth that, "it usually takes a few attempts to quit smoking - and sometimes a lot of them."

Imagine telling a recovering alcoholic or heroin addict not to worry about a little slip now and then, or that they should not expect success during their first few attempts, or possibly "a lot of them." It's exactly the type of advice that a chemically dependent mind in the throws of early withdrawal does not need to hear.

Philip Morris is fully aware that few U.S. cities have any youth smoking cessation program at all - none. It's simply outrageous that page 11 sends concerned parents on a wild goose chase. "You and your teenager should work together to find out what smoking cessation (quitting) programs are available in your community," it commands.

Knowingly preying upon youth, Philip Morris has moral, ethical and legal obligations to create and fund effective local quitting programs. After printing millions of brochures and airing thousands of commercials it has yet to develop, deploy and fund a single youth smoking cessation program anywhere in America. Why?

It's youth smoking cessation obligations flow from having intentionally pounded young developing minds with hundreds or even thousands of highly effective invitations to smoke nicotine. It is fully aware that it subjects every child's mind to more than a decade's worth of reckless shotgun type marketing impressions. It knows that a subconscious time-bomb is being built within each of them, a bomb that will explode at that one fateful "what the heck" moment.

If it truly cared for the youth it enslaves, wouldn't it provide far more than just another hollow responsibility commercial? Wouldn't it take immediate steps to insulate them from being pounded by its persistent marketing message, "come to where the flavor is?" Wouldn't it provide direct ongoing assistance in helping youth arrest their dependency once hooked?

Would Philip Morris have race cars and youth hero drivers dressed-up as packs of Marlboro cigarettes if it were sincere about youth smoking prevention? When Indy series Marlboro car driver Helio Castroneves was interviewed immediately following his June 26, 2005 win at Richmond he stated, "I knew we had a killer car." The sad part is that Philip Morris is fully aware that its race cars truly are weapons of mass destruction.

If concerned about youth tobacco marketing would it blast passing school buses and adjacent sidewalks with hundreds of thousands of external store cigarette marketing signs? Would it continue to allow its cigarette brands to appear in youth rated movies?

Wouldn't it instead be fighting for legislation to ban all indoor smoking so that youth no longer were compelled to sense, watch and breathe public indoor nicotine feedings? Wouldn't it want to make the crime of knowingly contributing to the permanent chemical enslavement of a child carry a first-time penalty of mandatory jail time?

Philip Morris knows that unlike Canada there is no U.S. addiction warning label. If it truly cared, wouldn't it immediately and voluntarily better the Canadian lead by devoting one-half of the front-face of every cigarette pack sold to a message stating, "Warning smoking nicotine is extremely addictive - studies have shown that nicotine can be harder to quit than heroin or cocaine?"

Instead, as evidenced by its three booklets, Philip Morris continues to knowingly engage in water's edge half-truth campaigns. It knows that youth are far more risk discriminating than given credit but can only make intelligent choices when armed with actionable intelligence.

We should each begin to believe that it truly does care about America's youth when it begins pulling its thousands upon thousands of giant and highly visible cigarette displays from neighborhood candy and grocery stores, and begins requiring that its products only be sold in stand-alone tobacco stores which have no external marketing and exclude children.

Philip Morris has yet to admit that, after almost five years of "trust us" marketing, that more than 80% of its new customers continue to be age seventeen or less. Would Philip Morris' market share have risen last year if its television commercials, ads and booklets were making a meaningful difference?

Like its voluntary "we card" program, the booklets are part of a thin yet massive national facade designed to prevent enactment of meaningful youth protection laws while projecting a false air of corporate responsibility. Behind its "we care" curtain, it knows that it must find youth replacements for the roughly 200,000 U.S. customers its products annually kill.

If Philip Morris truly cared about America's young wouldn't it support efforts to raise the nicotine product sales/use age to 21. Instead, it fights serious youth protection measures with every fiber of its massive corporateness. It must. Its nicotine addiction customer base would shrink by roughly 95% if it were compelled to give-up all new smokers under the age of 21.

Still, its latest booklet is probably as close to the truth as it can venture without hurting stockholders. It's a sad commentary on both America's #1 nicotine merchant and the children it feeds upon in generating America's #1 cause of death - chemical addiction to smoking nicotine.

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Written 08/30/05.
Reformatted 08/16/2018 by John R. Polito