By Michele Simon and John Stewart
This week, when tobacco giant Philip Morris International hosts it annual shareholders’ meeting in New York, the company will honor outgoing CEO Louis Camilleri for his years of service. But a look back at Camilleri’s tenure shows a trail and death and destruction unworthy of celebration.
In 2008, parent company Altria Group spun off the international division of Philip Morris to focus more on “emerging markets,” the euphemism corporations use to describe the exploitation of Global South nations. For decades, as the regulatory environment and public sentiment has turned against smoking in the U.S., tobacco corporations have set their sights overseas. As a result, Philip Morris International now derives more revenue from Asia than from the European Union, and nearly 80 percent of tobacco-related deaths occur in the Global South.
While the Marlboro man has been retired in the United States, he is alive and well as a marketing icon in several countries around the world. Sales of Philip Morris International’s brands grew in other nations last year, with shipments of 927 billion cigarettes and revenue of more than $31 billion — an accomplishment for which the CEO is well compensated. Also in 2012, Camilleri received an astonishing $24.7 million, up 23 percent from the previous year.
Second in size only to state-controlled China National Tobacco Corp., Philip Morris International is the biggest bully of the tobacco industry globally. On Camilleri’s watch, the company has engaged in numerous aggressive marketing tactics and legal maneuvers to ensure increased sales in nations that are trying to stem the rising tide of smoking deaths. Here are just a few recent examples:
- In 2010, Philip Morris International filed a lawsuit against Norway challenging that country’s ban on point-of-sale tobacco advertising displays. Last year, the Oslo District Court ruled in favor of Norway’s landmark law. How many lives were lost during the policy’s delay?
- In 2012 in the Philippines, Philip Morris International circumvented that nation’s ban on advertising by paying for an article in a popular magazine that praised the company’s efforts on disaster aid and relief. The NGO HealthJustice Philippines filed a legal complaint against the company.
- Also in the Philippines, Philip Morris International sued to stop that country from banning deceptive words such as “light” and “low tar” on tobacco packaging. In 2010, the courts rejected the company’s challenge.
- In 2009, Uruguay issued an executive order demanding graphic health warnings cover 80 percent of cigarette packaging. It also required a single design, preventing corporations from using colors to indicate allegedly less harmful varieties. In response, Philip Morris International sued the country for $2 billion through an obscure World Bank court. Although tobacco control philanthropist Michael Bloomberg stepped up to help the small country fend off this legal bullying, the case will be tied up in international courts for years.
- In 2010, the company filed a lawsuit against Brazil, arguing that images the government requires on cigarette packages do not accurately depict the health effects of smoking and “vilify” tobacco companies.
On this page on the Philip Morris International website, the company makes clear that it has little patience for such inconveniences as the World Health Organization’s global tobacco treaty, adopted in 2003. Formally known as the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the treaty specifically prevents industry interference in public health policy, thanks to the active work of civil society, such as organizations like Corporate Accountability International. All of the above challenged policies are included in the treaty, which has been ratified by 175 countries and prohibits advertising, promotion, and sponsorship. As a result, more than 60 percent of countries have some form of ad ban already in place. But that’s just a nuisance to Philip Morris International.
Calling such policies as point-of-sale display bans and plain packaging “extreme,” the company invokes familiar rhetoric about “communication with adult smokers” and whines about bans on charitable contributions, “use of journalistic expression or political commentary” and “restrictions on the rights of the tobacco industry to participate in the democratic process.” This is rich coming from a company whose modus operandi is to upend the democratic process in every nation it does business with.
But it’s also no surprise given Philip Morris International’s leadership. Hardly a class act, CEO Louis Camilleri remarked at the 2011 shareholder’s meeting that it wasn’t really “that hard to quit” smoking. Also, in this Michael Moore style 20/20 segment on ABC, Camilleri attempted to dodge hard questions about why his company was targeting children in Indonesia. (Included is the infamous and startling video of the “smoking baby.”)
Will Philip Morris International change its destructive ways with Camilleri stepping down as CEO? (He remains as board chair.) During his tenure, nearly 30 million people died from tobacco-related causes globally. When will the tobacco industry’s largest player stop obstructing public policy in nations that are trying to save lives and reduce suffering among its citizens? With this change in leadership, Philip Morris International has the opportunity to stop being the world’s bully.
John Stewart directs the Challenge Big Tobacco Campaign for Corporate Accountability International. This post originally appeared at Corporate Accountability International.