Intended for healthcare professionals


Smoking by young people

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: (Published 06 November 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:1268

Philip Morris USA also wants to reduce incidence of smoking by young people

  1. Carolyn Levy, senior vice president, Youth Smoking Prevention (Carolyn.J.Levy{at}
  1. Philip Morris USA, New York, NY 10017-5592, USA
  2. Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Washington, DC, USA

    EDITOR—Novelli, president of the American activist group Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, unfairly characterised the efforts of Philip Morris USA to help prevent smoking by young people.1 I would like to set the record straight.

    We at Philip Morris USA share a common goal with members of the public health community: reducing the incidence of smoking by young people. One indication of my company's commitment to this effort is the creation of our youth smoking prevention department, whose sole goal is to help reduce underage use of tobacco. Our approach is integrated and comprehensive, combining communication and support for school based prevention programmes and community based programmes promoting positive youth development.

    We share the view of many experts that an integrated approach is the most effective way to reduce smoking by young people. By itself, of course, advertising is unlikely to reduce underage tobacco use. We do, however, believe that it can play an important part in communicating non-smoking messages to minors, which is why we produced and placed the advertisements that Novelli condemns.

    We stand by these advertisements as being worthwhile in helping to prevent underage smoking. In our extensive research, more than nine out of 10 children said that our advertisements clearly communicated the “don't smoke” message, and nearly three out of four parents said they thought that our advertisements would help convince their children not to smoke. Novelli cites a different study but neglects to mention that its authors say it “cannot be considered statistically reliable or valid—nor was it meant to be.”2

    We at Philip Morris USA will continue running these advertisements and making other efforts to meet our responsibilities. We recognise that to reduce smoking by young people will require hard work and dedication not just from the tobacco industry but from a variety of people and organisations, including state governments, retailers, law enforcement authorities, community leaders, health organisations, teachers, and families.

    We accept the fact that many people question our commitment to do the right thing. Our hope is that in the long term reasonable people will judge us by our actions. Playing politics will not get us any closer to the goal we all share. Only hard work, based on an understanding of the complexity of what must be done, will make a difference.


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    Author's reply

    1. William D Novelli, president (wnovelli{at}
    1. Philip Morris USA, New York, NY 10017-5592, USA
    2. Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Washington, DC, USA

      EDITOR—Despite Levy's claim to the contrary, the public health community has no goals in common with Philip Morris USA. Virtually the entire community worldwide distrusts any initiative by Philip Morris concerning tobacco use by young people. Why is this so?

      • Because Philip Morris's global marketing practices continue to influence children, in terms of both beginning to smoke and brand selection. And when Philip Morris and other multinational tobacco companies enter a new national market the country's smoking rates typically increase substantially, especially among underage smokers and women

      • Because we believe that Philip Morris's antismoking attempts aimed at young people and its philanthropic giving are strategically designed to purchase legitimacy and to maintain the status quo for as long as possible

      • Because any partnerships with Philip Morris send the wrong messages to children about ethics, money, and integrity.

      Since the public health community does not trust Philip Morris or want the company to be involved in antismoking interventions aimed at young people, what does it want from Philip Morris? There are many ways in which this company could contribute to meaningful change and reduce the toll of tobacco in much of the world. Two immediate steps stand out:

      • Eliminate all marketing that impacts on children by abiding by marketing and youth access restrictions such as the ones agreed to in 1997 in negotiations between the tobacco companies and the state attorneys general in the United States. Those restrictions include the elimination of all human images (including the Marlboro Man) and substantial reductions in retail signage and displays. Philip Morris agreed to do that in 1997. Why not now?

      • Accept government authority to regulate tobacco and nicotine.

      By undertaking these steps, Philip Morris will ensure that youth smoking will decline and eventually adult smoking will as well.

      Levy accepts that some people will question Philip Morris's commitment to do the right thing and says that she hopes that reasonable people will judge the company by its actions in the long term. The public health community, of which Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is a part, consists of reasonable people. We do judge Philip Morris by its actions. We look at the death toll from tobacco, the high levels of tobacco use by young people, and the tobacco industry's political contributions and influence, and we draw the obvious conclusions.

      We hope that things will change as soon as possible. The status quo works against the health of children worldwide.