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[brussels] Philip Morris Cos. is gloating over a public relations coup scored as a result of reactions to its most recent ad campaign defending smoking.

Cookie marketers took the cigarette maker to court in both France and Belgium last week because they claimed the ad, produced by London agency BST, misleads consumers to think eating cookies is dangerous by comparing that to passive smoking.


The cookie makers succeeded in banning the ad in France, though Philip Morris is appealing the court decision. Belgian courts are expected to go the same way. However, this case has been taken off the "urgent" list there, meaning the case could take up to 12 months to come to court.

But none of this appears to bother Philip Morris.

"Did we know this [campaign] would cause controversy? Yes. Did we shy away from it? No," said David Greenberg, VP-corporate affairs for Philip Morris' European Union region.

The ban in France has little or no effect on Philip Morris' media plans for the campaign, he said.

The offending ad lists everyday foods and drinks-including cookies, milk and chlorinated water-that scientists have assessed as being of very low risk to health. The list also includes secondary or passive smoke, which according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is even less harmful than these other products.


This juxtaposition has caused confusion. One Philip Morris insider said his office has received calls from baffled consumers asking if it is safe to eat cookies.

The primary litigant in this case, the European association of chocolate, sugar confection and biscuits, known as Caobisco, welcomed the French court's opinion.


Further restrictions of the ad are expected. Mr. Greenberg said the campaign will soon break in Germany.

The squabble also led to the launch last week of an "association of courteous smokers."

Smoke Peace Europe intends to safeguard the basic rights of Europe's smokers, estimated by the group at about 96 million.

The organization will lobby for the withdrawal of a Council of Ministers resolution that encourages European Union member states to ban smoking in public places, and for a reduction in taxes on cigarettes from the European average of 74.4% of retail prices.

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