Thursday, March 11, 2004

17. Now they admit dangers

"Phillip Morris USA agrees with the overwhelming medical and scientific consensus that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and other serious diseases in smokers," is the first sentence in the health section of Phillip Morris' website regarding "Cigarette Smoking and Diseases in Smokers." Although this is nothing new, the Surgeon General notice has been on packs for years, it is interesting from a number of perspectives. Of first note, is the admission of Phillip Morris that their product does indeed cause harm to its consumers. Elsewhere in its website, Phillip Morris makes nearly the same statement concerning addiction, "Phillip Morris USA agrees with the overwhelming medical and scientific consensus that cigarette smoking is addictive." Thus, of second note is a company that admits its product is harmful and addictive. Of course, the debate of this admission has been a historic struggle, for, understandably, Phillip Morris and other cigarette manufactures were not in any hurry to make such admissions.

The battle of its customers has been equally as historic, as smokers were reluctant to accept the harm of cigarettes; then quick to sue over its addictiveness. If there was ever a doubt, all anyone had to do was consult the life insurance companies- for the most important information in their analysis is: smoker/nonsmoker. Most consumers have given in to acknowledging the health dangers, although I do still occasionally hear the argument, "Aunt Mary lived to 108 and smoked three packs a day." The lawsuits that were to follow were justified, especially if companies held in confidence the addictive nature of nicotine.

Further on the Phillip Morris website is a section on "Responsible Marketing." With a product that is addictive and harmful, could there be such a thing as responsible marketing? In fact, their mission statement claims, "Our goal is to be the most responsible, effective and respected developer, manufacture and marketer of consumer products, especially products intended for adults." It is easy for me to say as a nonsmoker, but the only responsible action might be to go out of business- for is there a responsible way to market and sell an addictive and harmful product? The more responsible mission statement might read, "We at Phillip Morris apologize for the emotional and physical trauma placed on the lives of our customers due to the harmful and addictive nature of our product. We will continue to serve our customers only as long as it takes to rid them of this addictive habit, or until death ensues- whichever comes first."

The remaining issue concerning cigarette smoking is that of second hand smoke and smoking in public areas. Again, I can reference the Phillip Morris website. Although not as adamant, Phillip Morris states, "Public health officials have concluded that secondhand smoke from cigarettes causes disease, including lung and heart disease, in nonsmoking adults, as well as causes conditions in children such as asthma..." And, furthermore, that, "We also believe that the conclusions of public health officials concerning secondhand smoke are sufficient to warrant measures that regulate smoking in public places." Here, perhaps, the battle lines have been drawn as consumers fight for their right to smoke against the rights of those seeking to escape the dangers of secondhand smoke.

From a societal perspective, the issue is that Phillip Morris admits that not only is their product harmful and addictive to their customers, but also to anyone who comes in contact with it. The ethical issue examines the conscience of the company and its employees- that is, the production of a product that is so knowingly harmful. American philosopher, Henry David Thoreau, wrote, "It is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience." That may be true enough, but the business conscience of today is not of right and wrong, rather it is of profit and loss.

I am well aware that people want Phillip Morris to continue to make their product, and dare not suggest that cigarettes be deemed illegal. But it is interesting to note, in today's health and safety conscious world, that a company could continue to produce a harmful product, market a harmful product, employ employees to make a harmful product, steadfastly inform the public of the dangers of their product and still thrive as an entity.

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