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Rotarians Treated To Corporate Candor

Smoking dangers are spelled out by a tobacco company.

Tobacco use is discouraged by nearly every sector of American society. However, on Jan. 10, the warning that "there is nothing safe about smoking cigarettes" came from an unexpected source.

"We make a very dangerous product. It causes a wide range of diseases, and children should definitely not smoke," said Tim Campbell, director of government affairs for Philip Morris USA.

Campbell was the featured speaker for Alexandria Rotary Club's monthly luncheon at the Radisson Hotel Old Town Alexandria.

"Philip Morris is in complete agreement with the medical and scientific communities that smoking is addictive and there is no such thing as a safe cigarette," Campbell said to the backed hotel ballroom.

He also defended his company's manufacture of tobacco products by claiming that Philip Morris is the only tobacco company taking a responsible attitude. If they were to cease production of cigarettes "that vacuum would be filled by others who do not share their approach to the problem."

Philip Morris is the leading cigarette manufacturer in the United States. Headquartered in Richmond, the company contributes more than $600 million annually to Virginia’s economy through taxes, salaries, and the purchase of goods and services, according to Campbell.

With over 12,000 employee, 6,000 in Virginia, primarily in the Richmond area, Campbell sees Philip Morris as taking a responsible approach to curbing tobacco use in the United States. When asked about tobacco use in other parts of the world, Campbell said he did not have those statistics because he was affiliated with only Philip Morris USA.

On the subject of children smoking or taking up smoking, Campbell, a non-smoker, said, "I have two daughters and I definitely don't want them to smoke. Nor do I want your kids to smoke."

He also maintained that according to statistics youth smoking has diminished by 40 percent since 1997.

AS TO WHY PHILIP MORRIS is taking this aggressive non-smoking stand Campbell attributed the policy to a sea change in public attitude toward smoking.

"Public expectations changed and the industry retreated to a bunker mentality," he said.

Campbell said the company had two choices.

"Either remain with the same approach in advertising and marketing or fundamentally change our entire approach. It was not an easy decision within the corporate structure but we chose the latter," he said.

Campbell said in 1997, the company's new mission became to realign with society's expectations.

"We are going to do everything we can to discourage smoking. Tobacco use is a declining business and has been for the past 25 to 30 years," Campbell said.

He did point out that Philip Morris is only one element of a larger conglomerate that manufactures a variety of products such as Kraft Foods. They are also diversifying as well as planning to spin off as an independent, public company in the near future, according to Campbell. Philip Morris has funded $2 billion in research over the past decade and has just invested $300 million in a new research/technology center in Richmond, according to Campbell.

DURING THE AUDIENCE QUESTION PERIOD Campbell was asked by Alexandria Health Director Charles Konigsberg Jr., if Philip Morris would be supportive of legislation in Virginia making non-smoking in restaurants and bars illegal statewide.

"We agree that smoking restrictions should be enforced where people assemble, particularly where children are present," Campbell said. "However, as to whether or not there should be a state law is really up to the business owners. I don't own a restaurant or a bar."

He said the company would stay neutral in the argument.

"We are not lending our support to the restaurant and bar owners," he said.

Campbell said the company no longer markets in the traditional ways. There are no television ads, billboards, or company shirts with tobacco logos.

"We only market to the sellers not the consumers," Campbell said.

He also emphasized that Virginia should do more to discourage smoking among kids. Keeping cigarettes out of easy reach of children is one step.

"We want vending machines to be in clear sight of adults," he said. "Not in an area where kids can easily access them."