Why Philip Morris Hates Trial Lawyers

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

This article was first published as "Why Philip Morris Hates Trial Lawyers", PR Watch, volume 3, number 1, First Quarter 1996. The original article was authored by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton and is used here with permission. As with all SourceWatch articles, feel free to edit and revise.

On September 19, 1996, the widow of the original Marlboro Man filed a lawsuit in Texas charging that her husband died from using the product that made him a household word.

David McLean was hired in the early 1960s to portray the "Marlboro Man" in television and print ads. He was obligated to smoke Marlboros as he posed for television and print ads, smoking up to five packs per take in order to get the right look. Afterwards, Philip Morris continued to send him gift boxes of cigarettes.

In 1985, McLean developed emphysema, followed by lung cancer in 1993. Following unsuccessful attempts at chemotherapy and other treatments, he died on October 12, 1995. McLean's death actually made him the second Marlboro Man to die of lung cancer. Another actor, Wayne McLaren, died in 1992 at the age of 51.

"Even the 'Marlboro Man' was not immune from the effects of cigarette smoking," said Don Howarth of the Howarth & Smith law firm, which is representing McLean's widow in the lawsuit against Philip Morris. "Mr. McLean's widow and son hope by this action to strike a blow for the countless others whose lives have been ravaged through the tobacco industry's aggressive campaign of fraud and deceit."

Many people have sued the tobacco industry before, of course, and to date they have not collected a dollar in damages. During the second quarter of 1996, in fact, company profits were up 18% over the same quarter in 1995, making the first half of the year a "blockbuster" according to PM CEO Geoffrey Bible.

In order to maintain its profitability in a hostile environment, Philip Morris spends staggering sums on lobbying and public relations. According to an internal State Affairs Company (SAC) report from 1995, PM "contributed $50 million to tax-exempt organizations through the nation during 1992 and is the largest contributor to the arts. ... PM also sponsored the 54th annual Convention of the National Newspapers Publishers Association" and "helps fund The American Civil Liberties Union--they gave $100,000 in 1991 and 1992."

Among groups that reported political lobbying in the first half of 1996, Philip Morris led the pack at $11.3 million, almost six times the amount reported by its arch-nemesis, the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. Consumers organizations and membership-funded citizen groups spent almost nothing by comparison. With the exception of the Christian Coalition, which spent $5.9 million, virtually every big-spending lobbyist represented a corporation or wealthy financial interest--the AMA, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, General Motors, General Electric, the Chemical Manufacturers' Association and AT&T. By comparison, the nation's largest membership organization, the American Association of Retired Persons, spent only $3 million.

The California Thing

"An interesting insight into Philip Morris's efforts comes from Victor Crawford, a former . . . lobbyist for the Tobacco Institute," observes an internal report by the State Affairs Company.

Crawford became an outspoken enemy of the tobacco lobby after developing lung cancer which led to his death earlier this year. The SAC report quotes him as saying, "If you ever want to see a bunch of cowboys work, watch Philip Morris. They are tough. I mean they shoot from the hip. It was Philip Morris who did the California thing [Proposition 188] after they were advised not to. That California thing was dumb, because they had their name attached to it. They should have never done that ... and they're getting bolder. It's a take-no-prisoners fight. You're talking about $100 billion a year in gross profits ... And man, anything goes. And anything will go."

The "California thing" was PM's outrageous attempt, organized through two PR firms, the Dolphin Group and Burson-Marsteller, to sucker California voters into passing a pro-tobacco initiative disguised as a smoking restrictions law. "Specifically, Proposition 188 would have overturned about 300 local smoking ordinances," observed the SAC report. "Besides spending about $15 million dollars in lobbying and expenditures in a failed effort to pass 188, PM "was responsible for the $968,710 in independent expenditures contributed by the National Smokers Alliance."

The National Smokers Alliance is PM's version of "grassroots lobbying"--the rapidly growing practice of using advertising, fax machines, mail and telephone banks to create phony "grassroots" front groups in order to stir up public support for its corporate objectives. SAC operates much of the National Smokers Alliance account, which PM founded with an initial contribution of $7 million dollars to Burson-Marsteller. NAS's current budget exceeds $10 million annually, primarily from Philip Morris.

In July, SAC led a PM-funded effort by the National Smokers Alliance in Virginia attacking the Motorola corporation's smoking policy, which they depicted as "the most mean-spirited and punitive ... of any we have yet encountered in this country." Thomas Humber, a Burson-Marsteller executive who is the nominal head of the National Smokers Alliance, wrote to SAC's David McCloud: "Enclosed is a check for $5,000 for the Motorola effort. . . . You are great Americans, and you understand raising hell and having fun."

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