Date:     May 15, 2011

Company:     Philip Morris

CEO:     Louis Camilleri

Source:     Associated Press

Synopsis:     AP reports the head of cigarette maker Philip Morris International told a cancer nurse at the annual shareholder meeting that while cigarettes are harmful and addictive, it is not that hard to quit.  Executives from the seller of Marlboro and other brands sparred with anti-smoking advocates at the meeting.  Nurse Elisabeth Gundersen, of Nightingale Nurses, an activist group that highlights tobacco health risks, told Camilleri that tobacco use kills more than 400,000 Americans and 5 million people worldwide each year, and that patients tell her it’s harder to quit cigarettes than crack, cocaine, or meth.  

Brand Buster:    Okay, you could argue that tobacco industry CEOs don’t have much of a brand to protect.  However, they usually fly under the radar when it comes to mainstream media.  The often-unapologetic Camilleri went too far.  It’s one thing to complain that the company doesn’t ”get enough recognition for the efforts we make to ensure that there is effective worldwide regulation of a product that is harmful and that is addictive.”  But postulating that it is ”not that hard to quit,” opens Pandora’s box.  Following Wednesday’s meeting, the company had to issue a restatement of its position that “tobacco products are addictive and harmful.”

Prediction:  Last year, Philip Morris International saw its profit grow 14.5 percent as its net revenue excluding excise taxes rose 8.7 percent. The company has raised prices and focused on emerging markets for growth as cigarette demand falls.  People will keep smoking, and the cigarette companies will continue to market abroad.  Philip Morris will remain profitable. Camilleri, a long time smoker, will never quit.

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