It might seem like a simple question: Is it hard to quit smoking tobacco?
For Philip Morris, past and present, it depends on what kind of barriers your corporate lawyers have erected.
To Louis C. Camilleri, CEO of Philip Morris International, now conveniently based in Switzerland, the answer is no. While smoking is addictive, he admitted, "it is not that hard to quit." Camilleri made the statement at PMI's annual meeting in New York.
Meanwhile, down in Richmond, at its annual meeting, Michael E. Szymancyk, CEO of Philip Morris USA, said that yes to both questions.
"Because tobacco use is addictive and can be very difficult to quit, our tobacco companies help connect adult tobacco consumers who have decided to quit with cesssation information from public health authorities," he told shareholders at Richmond's convention center.
Confused by this Alice in Wonderland doubletalk from what was once the world's greatest cigarette maker? It's just one of many contradictions.
The two Philip Morris' were split apart by corporate fiat and an army of corporate lawyers a few years back. The reason? The U.S. branch, now headquartered in Richmond, still makes cigarettes but tells you not to smoke them, yet it still makes a tidy profit by doing so. Last year, sales were $16.8 billion with net income of $3.8 billion.
Philip Morris International, which sells tobacco products everywhere but the U.S, rakes in even more dough: $27 billion in sales and $7 billion in profit last year.
The company split up was arranged to help block the U.S. version of Philip Morris from health-related lawsuits and for the American version to promote tobacco regulation by the Food and Drug Administration on terms favorable PM USA, in other words, in ways that lock in the dominant market share of its best-selling product, Marlboro brand cigarettes.
While PM USA, now wonderfully separate, fights a holding action on U.S. soil, its one-time sister can hop scotch the rest of the world selling even deadlier products. PMI has been testing a series of new -- some more potent -- tobacco products around the world.
One is Marlboro Intense that was test-marketed in Turkey. A shorter version of the flagship smoke, Marlboro Intense has tobacco packed more densely so a smoker can get a quicker nicotine kick when time is of the essence -- say, eating out at a smoking-restricted restaurant or working in a smoke-free building. Another product, fatter cigarettes called Marlboro Wides, was test-marketed in Portugal in 2006. The following year, the company introduced Marlboro Mix 9, a high tar and nicotine cigarette, in Indonesia, where more than half of all males smoke daily.
So, then, is it any surprise that Louis Camilleri, head of PMI, is going to say that it isn't that hard to quit smoking while Szymanczyk says (oh, moan) that it is?
The two companies are rich, well-run and deep-pocketed. Altria, owner of PM USA, buys favor by making major contributions to education, the arts, sports and culture. In Richmond, for instance, the decline or departure of a number of important companies has meant that just about two, electric utility Dominion and Altria, bankroll just about every community activity. And when the Virginia BioTechnology Research Park was floundering a few years back because it had little to show among its very large field of competing parks, newly-arrived Altria plopped down $350 million for a new research lab. Of course, they're not about to tell you what goes on inside those lab walls.
What's still overdue, however, is a reckoning. The handwriting is on the wall for tobacco products, unless you are dealing with Third World-types who live in smoking cultures and haven't been elevated to the level of caring or understanding about health warnings. In this country, cigarette smoking is on the decline. U.S. tobacco farmers started going to through a major downsizing two decades ago. The days of making deadly products and then telling customers not to use them can't last forever. Even smokeless tobacco has been shown to be dangerous as sales disappoint its makers.
It is "Oh So Richmond", that the city (and the state) still bets on a losing horse. Not the first time, though. Look at 1861.
A Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial this morning, “Richmond City Council: Comedy Is Over,” calls on City Councilman Marty Jewell to apologize to Council President Kathy Graziano, with inexplicably vacuous reasoning. Jewell called for Graziano’s resignation two weeks ago after she introduced a budget amendment seeking an additional $100,000 for the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office. This amendment came just a few days before that office stuck a deal with Graziano’s aide, David Hathcock, agreeing to drop charges of misdemeanor sexual battery and assault against another City Council aide, Jennifer Walle.
Hathcock agreed to undergo workplace sensitivity training and perform 100 hours of community service. It’s been more than a year since the incident occurred, and nearly six months after Jewell brought the incident to light.
Jewell may or may not have gone too far in calling for “the Graz’s” resignation, but the idea that somehow Jewell has become a political scourge of sorts for raising his fist at the whole affair suggests Richmond isn’t ready to become a first-tier city.
Much has been written and bemoaned about this City Council’s largely genteel, collegial approach. After former Mayor Doug Wilder left office, this council and mayor jumped at the chance to reinstall Richmond’s longstanding tradition of non-evasive politics. Ditto for the city’s business leaders.
This environment has allowed a giant bubble of insularity to build around the city, a place where the slightest burst of hot air can rupture an increasingly thin-skinned and fragile civic sensibility. In such a bubble, serious discussions about the state of our schools turns into gentle cheerleading, the need for expanded regional transit gets brushed to the sidelines and downtown master plans get shunted when it conflicts with the motives of profit-hungry developers.
In other words, the bubble becomes more important than the city -- and the people it purports to protect. One can envision the horror on Graziano’s face when Walle, who once worked in her office, appeared with allegations that Hathcock groped her in her office. What transpired after that has turned into a vicious she said, she said, but we do know what didn’t happen: There was no initial investigation into the charges and no attempts to limit contact between Hathcock and Walle. No one was put on administrative leave. When there was an eventual investigation into the alleged groping incident, and the city’s handling of the allegations, it was done 10 months later with the purpose of preparing the city’s defense against a civil lawsuit filed by Walle.
And Jewell is the one who needs to apologize?
The very suggestion offers an important insight. This is the same City Council that has withstood heroin addictions, tax evaders, bribery scandals and long, sustained bouts of carvinalesque stupidity. And that was before Doug Wilder. Can anyone even imagine what Wilder would have done with a gift-wrapped sex scandal involving a political foe? And Jewell’s umbrage over Graziano’s handling of the sex scandal, and her inability to see a problem with putting in a $100,000 bonus for the city prosecutor’s office, requires repentance?
Progress requires a healthy debate and political discourse that hardly seems possible in today’s Richmond. How can it when calls for moral and ethical accountability -- yes, as difficult as it is to believe, such calls usually are accompanied by political grandstanding -- are met with such scorn and dismissal, especially on the editorial pages of the city’s most influential newspaper?
One day, when the city finally wakes up and finds the bubble has burst, the people will decide that progress is more important than collegiality. And no apology will suffice.
Guess which giant American corporation stands to rake in dough by grabbing branding related to SEAL Team 6, the Navy commando unit based in Virginia Beach that killed Osama Bin Laden?
Disney. Surprised? You shouldn't be.
It isn't the first time that the California company that brought us Mickey Mouse has tried to profit from tragic historical events. In the early 1990s, they tried to build a $650 million theme park near the Civil War battlefield near Manassas that would have dishonored war dead. Only strong opposition from civic and environmental groups stopped them.
Now, Disney has filed for three trademark applications to claim rights to the phrase "SEAL Team 6." These would cover "entertainment and education services, toys, games and playthings" and "clothing, footwear and headwear."
SEAL Team 6 is a special unit of the Navy SEALs that is based at Dam Neck in Virginia Beach and is tasked with handling anti-terrorist operations. The team has seen extensive combat in Iraq and Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks. Its members are credited with assaulting bin Laden's stronghold in Pakistan and killing him.