Philip Morris Pushing Smoking Hard in Foreign Countries

brokeblokeIn the 1950s, more than half the U.S. population smoked. Now that number is down to just 21 percent of adults. As the domestic cigarette market shrinks, tobacco companies are taking their business to the developing world, where they don't have to deal with pesky things like advocacy groups that oppose industry activity, smoking bans, or a populace that is aware of the health hazards of smoking.

Now Philip Morris (PM) is playing hardball in lesser-developed countries to try and preserve their ability to market cigarettes however they want. On February 19, PM filed a lawsuit against Uruguay to try and force that country to withdraw a new law requiring 80 percent of each side of cigarette packs show graphic images depicting the health effects of smoking.

Laws requiring large, pictorial graphic warning labels on cigarette packs are not new. Canada was the first to implement them, starting in 2000. Now 32 countries and the European Union require them. Uruguay, in fact, already had a law requiring half of each side of cigarette packs to contain health warnings. They just wanted to make the pictures a little bigger. That was all it took to get Philip Morris to slap them with a lawsuit.

So why is Philip Morris coming down like a ton of bricks on less developed countries like this? Because as cigarette makers lose their markets in the developed world, they need poorer and less-educated populations to keep expanding their business. That means moving into developing countries, and how they market cigarettes there is often egregiously repugnant.

Cigarette Marketing Strategies in Foreign Countries

Cigarette companies market their products quite differently in foreign countries than they do in the U.S. They've also learned lessons from their past experiences in the U.S. that they apply to help create business other countries.

For example, an undated British American Tobacco marketing plan discusses "Project Z," in which the company planned to sell single cigarettes in Central American countries, as a way to keep poverty-stricken smokers addicted to nicotine. The document says that selling cigarettes one by one will help keep poor smokers "within the habit."

Leveraging Fear as a Marketing Tool

Tobacco companies learned that "health scares" tend to generate new markets for brands people think are safer. They apply this knowledge to actually stimulate health fear among smokers to drive people to buy "low tar" brands. For example, in 1983, Brown & Williamson implemented Project Lodestar in Kuwait, to generate health fears among Kuwaiti smokers to increase sales of their "light" brands in Kuwait. In describing Project Lodestar, B&W lamented that "The lack of growth in [the low tar and nicotine] segment, especially in developing countries, has seriously affected the potential of key BWIT brands..." Project Lodestar's objective was to "Stimulate concern among less aware consumers..." Another Lodestar tactic involved snookering Kuwaiti anti-tobacco groups into helping B&W "stimulate" this "concern":

"Lobby [the Kuwaiti Anti-Smoking] Society to emphasize low delivery brand alternatives for concerned smokers who do not want to quit smoking..."

Uruguay graphic warningUruguayan pictorial warning (Physicians for Smokefree Canada)Philip Morris held the people of Pakistan in similar regard. A 1990 Philip Morris report shows that Pakistani smokers' growing fears and anxieties about health represented little more than a "market opportunity" for PM. In countries where information about the health effects of smoking is scarce, cigarette makers anticipate that, as smokers find out what smoking can do to them, health anxieties will eventually increase, and they start positioning their brands to cash in on those fears.

The More Desperate the Country, the Better the Cigarette Market

Tobacco companies also know that people in poor countries are so consumed with their basic survival needs that they tend to pay less attention to smoking and health issues. The governments and medical establishments in such countries tend to follow suit. A 1980 Philip Morris 5-year plan says,

Smoking and Health is not yet considered to be a crucial issue by the Egyptian Tobacco Industry ... and health is not an issue among the general Egyptian populace who are more concerned with day-to-day survival and consider smoking to be one of their few pleasures in life. The health question ... is not considered to be a priority by the [Egyptian] medical profession ...


Poorer Governments are Friendlier

Poorer governments also tend to be more favorable towards tobacco companies, since they are more heavily dependent on tobacco taxes for income, and thus less apt to restrict tobacco marketing, use and advertising. PM wrote,

In general, little official governmental attention has been paid to smoking and health in Africa and the African Health Ministers, where they exist, have not taken a strong stand on this issue. This is in large part because most [African] governments are preoccupied by other priorities (economic and social development), and because cigarette advertising and tax revenues are important to the African economies. Therefore, governments are not inclined to impose restrictions which might jeopardize this income.

High Illiteracy Rates are Good for Business

A high illiteracy rate is also important to marketing cigarettes because it means a populace that relies less on printed health information, which benefits the tobacco companies. It also clarifies why tobacco companies particularly dislike the use of pictorial health warnings in developing countries: illiterate people will understand them. The following passage from a PM document discusses the high rate of illiteracy in Nigeria, and how health information from the "outside" was starting to affect "the upper class," which presumably had higher literacy rates than the general population:

As not less than seventy percent of the Nigerian population is illiterate, Nigerians form their opinions on smoking and health almost exclusively on the basis of rumor and superstition. The population is becoming more aware of the allegations against smoking largely because of press coverage from outside reports. The prevalent attitude in model developed countries has some impact on the upper class...

Pictorial Warnings Work, and are Necessary

Studies show that pictorial warning labels on cigarette packs are highly effective at conveying health information and reducing smoking, especially in developing countries. It is testament to the power of the American tobacco lobby that we don't have them yet in the U.S., and that we are running so far behind other nations in this regard. After all, Australia, Canada, Mexico, India, Great Britain and the European Union have them, among others. I strongly support Uruguay and other countries fighting to inform their people about the health hazards of smoking and protect their populations from tobacco industry aggression, and I support their struggles -- and ours here on this country -- to better inform people about the tobacco industry's predatory marketing.


There is no way you will be able to eradicate smoking unless you put a death sentence which isn't coo. I guess we just have to live with these promotions and hope it doesn't get to the foreign youth.

The business ethic continues to get nastier. Selling unhealthy products which and more profitable, marketing to kids, fine print advertisements and contracts, merchandising environmentally, wasteful products, deceptive advertising, shock entertainment/commercials sell, but soil social standards, credit gouging. . . . Should free enterprise be this free?

Imagine government not playing nanny. That's a great concept that should be returned to the U.S.A. Once Big Pharma can figure how to make money in those countries the nanny state will arrive like it did in the good old U.S.A. Big Pharma will pay front groups to terrorize the populace with junk science and scare tactics to convince the uninformed masses they should be buying pharmaceuticals.

They say money makes the world go round. Although the artcle is enlightening regarding Phillip Morris, they are not the only culprits. Whenever big business has lots of money at stake in something, the business ethics, moral values and respect for fellow human beings go out the window.

Anyone, even the WHO, who says that "smoking" is the problem is unwittingly, or intentionally, working to pass blame for the plague of illnesses onto the victims for their behavior. That is scapegoating. To do this is to ignore that typical (VERY non-organic) cigarettes are contaminated with residues of any of hundreds of tobacco pesticides, carcinogenic levels of radiation (PO-210) from the still legal use of certain phosphate fertilizers, dioxin-creating chlorine substances (pesticides and chlorine-bleached paper), added burn accelerants, any of over 1000 untested (often toxic) non-tobacco additives, addiction-enhancing additives, and kid-attracting sweets and flavors galore. What alchemy can put all that together to come up with just "tobacco"? In any case, many brands may contain not a shred of tobacco but, instead, "tobacco substitute material" made in patented ways from all sorts of industrial waste cellulose, all flavored, colored, scented, texturized, and dosed with nicotine to create the illusion of tobacco. It is interesting that even the most zealous opponent (ostensibly) of the cigarette industry does not charge the industry with fraud. Few Guinea-pigged, secretly-poisoned smokers know about this. They believe and are told that they are just using tobacco. The smoke is, often wrongly, called “environmental tobacco smoke”. They believe that public regulators and public health officials are human beings who would never allow such harms. Many others seem to believe, wrongly, that tobacco (itself, without adulterants) has been tested and proven to be the sole cause of all the diseases and deaths. No published studies note what was studied, be it adulterated tobacco, fake tobacco, or plain tobacco. Medical science is just too tight with various parts of the cigarette cartel (chlorine, pharmaceuticals, insurance, etc.) to do honest research. The entire seemingly "nice" and "progressive" anti-smoking campaign is an attempt to save the cigarette makers, and their ingredient suppliers, and their investors (including health insurance firms), from the potentially biggest liability suits and corporate criminal charges in history. The campaign is about saving the "good name" of chlorine...even though virtually all so-called "smoking related" diseases are identical to effects of dioxin exposure. (Dioxins are from industrial chlorine, impossible to be from tobacco or any plant.) The campaign is about taking yet another un-patentable, public-domain plant from the public for the sake of pharmaceuticals that hope to replace it with patented synthetic nicotine delivery products. And, it's about public officials hoping to seem as if they care about health and "clean air" even though they were the gate keepers on whose watch millions, if not billions, of people unwittingly poisoned themselves with what are better called "Pesticide Pegs", "Dioxin Dowels", or "Radiation Rods". It would be a good thing if Uruguay put some of that wording on its cigarette labels. Not on the plain tobacco products, of course. Above details are easily referenced by simple searches for relevant terms--- "pesticides tobacco", "radiation tobacco", "dioxin chlorine", "GAO tobacco pesticides", etc.

Nicotine is more addictive than heroine. There's no record of a full ban in nicotine products so we don't know the reaction of people, but we do know that jews in concentration camps would exchange their loaf of bread (all their food of the day) for one "cigarette' made with 3 or 4 cigarette butts picked up from the floor. That's how much you need nicotine. You'd rather die than the prospect of living without it. Everybody smokes in Uruguay. (I know, I'm from there). 3/4 of the population smoke. My mom, dad, brothers, sister, everybody smokes. My dad died at 60 from a tobacco use related illness and he couldn't stop smoking. My father in law died from the same, also smoker, he was able to stop smoking but it was too late. In Uruguay there aren't consumer laws like in America. I remember watching cigarette ads in TV every time during the day. I mean, THEY TARGET KIDS!!!! there are candy cigarettes sold at stores! After 20 years of smoking and many, many unsuccessful attempts to quit, FINALLY, I've been nicotine free for 2 months now. I believe that living in America has been the main reason why I was able to quit. The fact that the majority of people despise smoking here, and the fact that I don't have to see tobacco absofuckinglutely everywhere I turn to, has made my quitting possible. The pro-consumer laws against tobacco have saved my life. Its a shame that the majority of 3/4 of the population of Uruguay (most of the people I've known anyways) will probably die because of tobacco use and nobody cares.