The comments of top executives in "Philip Morris: Inside America's most reviled company" (Cover Story, Nov. 29) may help them to sleep at night but will do little to change public opinion. What is indelibly etched in the collective consciousness is the image of Big Tobacco's seven CEOs lying before a congressional committee about tobacco's addictiveness. No amount of legal legerdemain or public relations will ever alter the damage done by their testimony in blatant contradiction of what was widely known within the industry about tobacco's lethal properties.
The tobacco executive's answer to "how can you work for a company that kills people?" is that cigarettes are a lawful product and that every adult should have the freedom of choice to buy. The freedom of choice by adults is as it should be, but is the product lawful, and are the industry promotional activities legal? Has the tobacco industry been above the law while the government looked the other way? Is is lawful for tobacco to be processed and sold without regulation by the Food & Drug Administration? Is the tobacco-industry conspiracy to hide the hazardous and addictive nature of tobacco from the public illegal? The moment of truth is close at hand on these issues.
In 1964, the Surgeon General warned that cigarette smoking could be hazardous to your health. I was only 7 at the time, but I understood the message. But only now is the public distrustful of tobacco CEOs. Perhaps the distrust would be better directed at politicians who are now suing tobacco companies--after years of tobacco revenue-sharing through cigarette taxes, while concurrently requiring health warnings on every pack.
David A. Senior
Sherman Oaks, Calif.
That Paul W. Hendrys uses his "quitting" smoking 20 times, often for a few weeks or months, as an attempt to suggest it is easy to quit smoking would be laughable if it didn't reflect the sad fact that nicotine is extremely addictive. While a large percentage of cigarette smokers may be able to quit for short periods of time, the relapse rate, after one year, for smoking cessation is about the same, or higher, as for stopping heroin use. Each year, 70% of U.S. smokers want to quit, 34% of smokers attempt to quit, but only about 2.5% actually quit for one year.
Some might consider Philip Morris' campaign efforts to stop underage smoking a good start, but it is at most only that. If Philip Morris really wanted to stop underage smoking, it would initiate stronger measures, such as a unilateral policy not to supply cigarettes to any store that has been caught selling to minors. They might also support harsh financial and community-service penalties for those store owners. However, if they developed effective strategies to stop underage smoking, they would lose 80% to 90% of their business--because 80% to 90% of smokers start before 18, and more than 96% start before 21.
Institute & Hospital