The Cigarette

And a woman is only a woman,
But a good cigar is a smoke.

- Rudyard Kipling, The Betrothed, A poem inspired by an 1885 Breach of Promise case in which the plaintiff reportedly said: "You must choose between me and your cigar."

It is not often I feel compelled to offer an apology to a corporation but one is required this week. Last week, in poking fun at Merck and Schering-Plough for having failed to disclose the results of their unfavorable tests of Vytorin and Zetia, I made fun of Phillip Morris for an ad that appeared in a 1943 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. The ad touted the virtues of its cigarettes and their endorsement by leading doctors. In describing the ad it might seem to some that I was mocking Phillip Morris and that was not my intention. I have nothing but admiration for the company and had an article in the Wall Street Journal appeared just a few days earlier the column would have been written differently. The WSJ article described all the things Phillip Morris International, (PMI) is doing to make cigarette smoking more attractive in those countries that have not yet concluded they are harmful to a smoker's health.

One of the cleverest ideas devised by Phillip Morris addresses the undeniably difficult problem posed for smokers in those countries where cigarette smoking though not frowned upon, is nonetheless not permitted with the confines of public buildings, thus forcing smokers to sneak outdoors to enjoy their pleasures. To help those people, Phillip Morris has come up with a cigarette that is the opposite of the 1940's version of Pall Mall cigarette. That cigarette bragged that it was 20% longer than other cigarettes and, therefore, healthier because, as its commercial said: "Pall Mall's greater length, filters the smoke on the way to your throat." No one ever pointed out to the maker that once the first half-inch had been smoked the remaining length was the same as that of its competitors and the filtering advantage ceased to exist. That omission was not important, however, since nothing about cigarette advertising is designed to appeal to reason.

The cigarette that is the opposite of the 1940's Pall Mall is called Phillip Morris's "Marlboro Intense." It is one-half inch shorter than ordinary cigarettes but, according to its advertising, packs the same carcinogenic punch (my words-not Phillip Morris's) as the longer variety because it is more heavily infused with whatever it is that gives the smoker simultaneously pleasure and cancer. According to news of its advent that cigarette is not only short but a bit fatter than ordinary cigarettes. Its advantage is that its pleasure and toxin can be inhaled in only 7 puffs whereas ordinary cigarettes require 8 or 9 puffs to achieve the same result, a definite benefit for those who, being short on time, are eager to shorten their lives as well by getting the same effect a long cigarette would give them. That is not the only creativity displayed by the company. It has also created the Heatbar, a smoke, but also a pollution-reducing device.

Everyone knows that a by-product of smoking is a pollutant known as "smoke." According to the WSJ the Heatbar looks a bit like an electric toothbrush. The cigarette is inserted into the device and the smoker then inhales. Inhaling causes the device to heat up "delivering a flavored aerosol, without causing any tobacco to burn." It releases 90% less smoke into the atmosphere. Whether it is less harmful to the user is not disclosed in the article and the company's website has distressingly little information about what will surely be a big hit among the environmentally concerned smoking crowd. Although not the sort of device one would expect to see Humphrey Bogart pull out in To have and have not or any other films in which he starred, it hopes to find a place of honor in the smoker's world.

The foregoing is not intended to cast aspersions on PMI and its own corporate site would refute any attempt to do so. Under the rubric "Commitment to Responsibility" on its website, the company says it tracks "whether the company measures up to society's expectations of a major multinational company-and a tobacco company." It says it supports "strong and effective tobacco regulation for both its products and the industry", is "open about the health effects of smoking" and works "to address society's concerns about its products" and supports "minimum age laws" and "youth smoking prevention programs across the globe."

PMI is clearly a conscientious company and one can't fault it for continuing to market the only thing it knows how to make. One can only praise it for its efforts to improve the environment and accommodate its customers who have found themselves caught up in government regulations imposed by people who have never appreciated the pleasures that can be found in a well-timed smoke.

Christopher Brauchli
For political commentary see my web page

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