Anti-smoking efforts dragged into fray

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The cigarette war has extended into the players' anti-smoking efforts, with Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. charging that Philip Morris USA is using its youth-smoking prevention program to further its leadership position in store.

While all the tobacco companies said they support responsible marketing that reduces the likelihood of youth smoking, Philip Morris' policy is the most stringent, making 15 cents of the 40-, 60- or 90 cents incentives received by retailers participating in its Retail Leaders merchandising program conditional to having no self-service of any tobacco products in their stores. The retailers must also be part of the industry-wide "We Card" program to reduce underage smoking.

Mark Kovatch, VP-trade marketing at B&W, said Philip Morris is supporting legislation that would ban self-service displays "under the guise of keeping cigarettes away from children, but it plays very well with Philip Morris' strategy, and we think this is why they're so supportive of it."

Philip Morris denied that it has supported any such bills or laws. "A lot of things [B&W] is saying are not true," countered Brendan McCormick, manager of media affairs at Philip Morris USA. "We don't have a position as far as legislation. We are not advocating for regulation in this area. We're not. [Brown & Williamson] is wrong," he said, adding, "we leave it up to [the retailers] to weigh in and talk to their elected officials." B&W and RJR both support the We Card program, like Philip Morris, but do not make incentives contingent upon self-service bans.

RJR encourages non-self-service in convenience and drug stores, but not in age-restricted tobacco-only retailers who sell to adult smokers. "We not only encourage retailers to put the product behind plastic shields, but we provide the plastic shields" in convenience and drug stores, said RJR's Senior Counsel Darryl Marsch. "We think that [self-service] ought to be a free choice made by retailers or made by the local or state government," Mr. Marsch said.

Currently nine states and hundreds of local municipalities have laws banning self-service, according to the American Lung Association.

In an example of controversial issues making strange bedfellows, anti-tobacco groups-usually Big Tobacco's worst enemy-are finding themselves on the same side of the fence as Philip Morris on the issue of self-service.

"Moving cigarettes behind the counter is a step forward in making cigarettes less accessible to children," said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "When companies like Brown & Williamson complain about Philip Morris' incentives to retailers to move cigarettes behind the counter, they're dealing with a problem they created by themselves by opposing government regulation that would accomplish this objective in an even-handed way."

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