- April 5 - The home of Philip Morris Chair and CEO Geoffrey Bible is the site of a protest today by the national corporate accountability organization Infact. Infact is calling on Mr. Bible to use his leadership position within the tobacco giant to end aggressive tactics like the Marlboro Man, the image that has made Marlboro the #1 cigarette among US youth. Local activists from the Green Party of Westchester County, Global Youth Action Network, the Connie Hogarth Center for Social Action and the Purchase Student Activists Collective from SUNY Purchase College are joining with Infact-whose major strategy is a Boycott targeting Philip Morris’s Kraft Foods subsidiary-to demand that Philip Morris stop promoting tobacco to kids and keep out of public health policy.
Protesters wearing masks showing the Marlboro Man as a skeleton are holding a candlelight vigil in Mr. Bible’s neighborhood in memory of family members and friends lost to tobacco addiction. Boycotters from Greenwich, Fairfield, Hartford and around the country have signed thousands of messages calling on Philip Morris to withdraw the Marlboro Man-described by its creator as “the right image to capture the youth market’s fancy” and arguably the world’s leading source of youth tobacco addiction. Local residents will deliver 457 of these messages to Mr. Bible’s home, symbolizing the number of people who will die around the world from tobacco-related illnesses during the hour-long vigil.
Emily Orchier of the Green Party of Westchester County is one of dozens who have signed a giant message being presented to Mr. Bible, reportedly in his final year at the helm of Philip Morris. “Over the next year, four million people around the world will be lost to tobacco-related illnesses. Members of this community are here tonight to urge Mr. Bible to change his legacy by taking swift, decisive action to retire the Marlboro Man while he’s in a position to do so,” says Ms. Orchier.
The vigil in Mr. Bible’s neighborhood follows a similar challenge issued by Infact only a week ago in Princeton, New Jersey, where Philip Morris board member John Reed lives. “It’s clear that local communities and activists care about this issue,” says Infact Organizer Kim Foltz. “The recent expansion of the Kraft Boycott is a testament to this growing concern.”
The United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society and the American Medical Student Association have just joined more than 200 other organizations and prominent individuals in endorsing Infact’s Kraft Boycott. Many of these people have been motivated to action by the hard-hitting documentary Making a Killing: Philip Morris, Kraft and Global Tobacco Addiction, produced for Infact by AndersonGold Films. In recent weeks Making a Killing has screened before receptive local audiences at the Young Men’s and Women’s Hebrew Association, Pop Sustainability, and on the campus of SUNY Purchase.
While spreading tobacco addiction around the world, Philip Morris has used its ownership of Kraft to gain leverage with consumers and policymakers-as shown in millions of internal corporate documents released to the public through litigation. Despite an 800% increase in Philip Morris’s image advertising from 1998 to 1999, the corporation’s attempts to polish its image may be backfiring. A recent Harris Interactive poll found that 16% of respondents familiar with Philip Morris had boycotted its products in the past year.
Leading up to the corporation’s annual shareholders’ meeting in Richmond, Virginia on April 26, Philip Morris recently filed for an Initial Public Offering of stock for its Kraft Foods subsidiary. “A glance through Philip Morris’s 2000 Annual Report shows that top executives are seriously concerned about attracting, motivating, and retaining qualified employees-particularly in the food division. Tensions within the corporation are intensifying. The IPO may be just the tip of the iceberg,” says Infact’s Foltz.
The protests, according to Ms. Foltz, are part of an international drive throughout April-building toward the Philip Morris annual shareholders’ meeting and government negotiations on the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control-an international treaty that could limit the tobacco industry’s advertising, promotion and political influence. “From Princeton, NJ to Greenwich, CT to Chicago, IL, community leaders and activists across the US are rallying together to demand that Philip Morris withdraw the Marlboro Man and stop lobbying to water down public health protections like the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control,” concludes Ms. Foltz.