Whether it?s Philip Morris or Altria ? it?s still Big Tobacco. No matter what the company chooses to call itself, it still sells a highly toxic, highly addictive product that continues to kill more than 440,000 Americans every year, and millions more worldwide.
In addition to cigarettes, Philip Morris markets family-oriented products, such as Oreos, Kraft macaroni and cheese, Kool-Aid and DiGiorno pizza. But cancer wards, oxygen tanks and coffins associated with cigarettes are not family-friendly images. It?s not difficult to understand why it wants to distance its Kraft products from long-time moneymakers such as Marlboro.
With a new name, Philip Morris is trying to hide from its past and shield its other subsidiaries from the tarnished image and reputation it has acquired through years of denial, deceit and secrecy. With litigation, congressional hearings and the release of internal documents, the company has lost its credibility with the majority of Americans.
In the past few years, Philip Morris spent an estimated $200 to $250 million to rehabilitate its public image with self-congratulatory ads detailing its philanthropy. In fact, the company spent more money promoting its good deeds, than on the good deeds themselves (Branch, Shelly. ?Philip Morris?s Ad on Macaroni and Peace ? Kosovo Tale Narrows Gap Between Philanthropy, Publicity? Wall Street Journal, July 24, 2001; Dorfman, Lori, ?Philip Morris Puts Up Good Citizen Smokescreen? AlterNet.org, Nov. 27, 2000).
But the expensive smokescreen campaign didn?t work. Philip Morris ranked 59th out of 60, behind only Firestone/Bridgestone for two years in a row in Harris Interactive?s corporate reputation polls for the Reputation Institute.
The public knew the ads were the company?s latest attempt to divert attention from its infamous business practices and the death and destruction caused by its products. Coincidently, the Philip Morris ads stopped and the tobacco giant announced plans to change its name to Altria.
Changing Philip Morris to Altria is a greedy maneuver to further boost profits without changing business practices. Wall Street analysts think the name change is a smart move ? a way to distance Kraft foods and Miller beer from the taint of tobacco. The anticipated increase in stock prices means even more profit for the tobacco giant ? and it won?t have to change its business practices in any way.
Ultimately, Philip Morris, no matter what it calls itself, cannot hide from its past and current practices of destroying lives. It doesn?t change the fact the company must replace the millions of customers it loses each year to heart disease, lung cancer, stroke and other smoking-related diseases.
It doesn?t change the fact every year more than 2,000 children become addicted to cigarettes and Philip Morris? Marlboro cigarettes are the overwhelming favorite of underage smokers.
No matter how hard it tries to reinvent itself ? Philip Morris is the largest manufacturer of the world?s most deadly consumer product.
Anibel Guerrero is reprsentative of the Coalition to Reduce Tobacco Availability