WASHINGTON – The nation's largest cigarette manufacturer is criticizing state governments for failing to use tobacco settlement money to curb youth smoking. But health advocates say Philip Morris USA is being disingenuous.
Philip Morris released a statement to coincide with the next round of payments to 46 states as part of a $206 billion settlement reached in 1998 for tobacco-related health costs. The industry makes such payments twice a year. The next payment, for more than $2 billion, is due Thursday.
"We are disappointed that, to date, more states have not taken advantage of the opportunity to use these funds to support programs that can help reduce youth smoking," said Carolyn Levy, the company's senior vice president for youth smoking prevention.
Philip Morris cited a National Conference of State Legislators study that found only 5 percent of the settlement funds are being spent on tobacco prevention. Much of the rest is being used to plug budget holes.
Bill Corr, executive vice president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said Philip Morris is trying to improve its public image without making any changes in the way it does business. He noted the company's Marlboro brand remains the cigarette of choice for most young smokers.
"If they put their advertising muscle and marketing prowess into getting kids not to smoke their brands, then they would have a right to criticize others for their actions," Corr said.
He said the company should get rid of the Marlboro Man in its ad campaigns and stop sponsoring auto racing teams.
Philip Morris spokesman Tom Ryan said reducing youth smoking was one of the stated goals of the settlement agreement and that the company hopes the states do more on that issue.
He said Philip Morris voluntarily keeps its ads out of magazines that are popular with teenagers and that the company has a department dedicated to stopping youth smoking. It has spent $300 million on those efforts since 1998.
Cheryl Healton, president and CEO of the American Legacy Foundation, an anti-smoking group funded by the tobacco settlement, was skeptical that Philip Morris truly wants young people to stay away from cigarettes.
"I find it hard to believe a business will dedicate itself to going out of business" by encouraging the next generation of smokers to stay away from cigarettes, she said.
Healton also criticized Philip Morris' anti-smoking ads, saying they are tepid and often appear during adult-oriented shows.
"You don't see their ads in the middle of a hot video on MTV," Healton said.