WASHINGTON - February 2 - As part of its PR campaign to portray itself as a changed, responsible company, Philip Morris USA for the past two years has claimed that it has stopped opposing smoke-free workplace laws and the company’s web site advises that “the public should be guided by the conclusions of public health officials regarding the health effects of secondhand smoke.” Now, however, Philip Morris is breaking its promise and leading the fight against smoke-free legislation in Texas and Virginia, according to stories published today by the Associated Press and The Washington Post. Philip Morris’ reversal is further evidence that the company has not fundamentally changed and continues to oppose proven measures to reduce smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke, at great cost in health and lives. Last year, Philip Morris spent tens of millions of dollars to fight state ballot initiatives to increase tobacco taxes and fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs. Today’s revelation demonstrates that, contrary to their claims of change, Philip Morris actually continues to oppose the three most significant state policies that are scientifically proven to reduce tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke.
Elected officials in Texas, Virginia and across the country should reject the deceptive lobbying tactics of Philip Morris and other tobacco companies and continue the strong momentum in support of these proven tobacco prevention measures. Several governors have recently proposed significant tobacco tax increases to fund tobacco prevention and other health care programs, while a growing number of states and localities are moving quickly to join the 16 states (along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) that have enacted strong smoke-free workplace laws that include restaurants and bars. Philip Morris and other tobacco companies are increasingly desperate to protect their bottom line now that even traditional tobacco-growing states such as Virginia are seriously considering these important public health measures.
Philip Morris is right in one sense: Elected officials should listen to the conclusions of the nation’s public health experts, not the misinformation of the tobacco industry. With regard to secondhand smoke and smoke-free laws, the public health conclusions are crystal clear. As the U.S. Surgeon General concluded when he issued a landmark report last year, “The debate is over. The science is clear: Secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance but a serious health hazard that causes premature death and disease in children and nonsmoking adults.” The Surgeon General found that secondhand smoke is a proven cause of lung cancer, heart disease, serious respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis and asthma, low birth weight and sudden infant death syndrome. The Surgeon General also found that secondhand smoke is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in the United States each year; there is no safe level of exposure; only smoke-free policies provide effective protection; and smoke-free laws protect health without harming business.
Just this week, a new study published online by the American Journal of Public Health provides important additional evidence that secondhand smoke exposure in the workplace is associated with an increased risk of lung cancer. This study, which analyzed data from 22 other studies of workplace secondhand smoke exposure, found a clear dose-response relationship between levels of secondhand smoke exposure and lung cancer increase and that workers with high levels of exposure to secondhand smoke had double the risk of developing lung cancer. This study is a clear refutation of tobacco industry claims that evidence of the link between secondhand smoke and lung cancer is based on exposure in the home, not the workplace.
Philip Morris first stated that it would no longer oppose smoke-free workplace laws in a December 19, 2004, story in The Los Angeles Times in which a Philip Morris spokeswoman described the move as “a big departure from what we’ve done traditionally.” Now, as smoke-free laws proliferate, Philip Morris has had to choose between protecting its profits and protecting health, and once again it has chosen to protect its bottom line. Elected officials across the nation should make a different choice and support proven, effective measures to reduce smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke.