On 24 February, UK Channel 4’s C4Dispatches broadcasted a program exposing how Philip Morris was advertising its cigarettes near schools in Indonesia (The Secrets of Big Tobacco). PMI was quick to respond via twitter that it had taken immediate action.
Philip Morris went into damage control as it was exposed for luring minors with its cigarette adverts in Indonesia while telling the whole world it is going “smoke-free”. However, Philip Morris provided industry text-book response to being exposed for advertising near schools. Let’s unravel its tweets:
1. PMI: We took immediate action
Fact check: would it have any taken action if it was not exposed?
2. PMI: Don’t admit wrong-doing, instead blame it on the errant third party – retailer
Fact check: This is just 1 retailer – what about the other 1 million retailers Philip Morris sells its cigarettes through either directly or indirectly in Indonesia? According to one survey, more than 37% of retailers are located less than 100 meters from schools. What about the Sampoerna cigarette billboards and posters that Indonesian children routinely see on the streets?
3. PMI: claim loss of control over retailers
Fact check: Philip Morris marketing representatives visit retailers at least once a week, even twice a week to check supplies and pack display of their brands. They have regular communication with their retailers. See survey of incentives given to retailers to sell cigarettes.
4. PMI: Repeat standard answer that it does not advertise to children – a policy which is not implemented
Fact check: Tobacco advertising near schools has been going on in Indonesia for a very long time. Here is a report from 2015 and one from 2018. See here a survey of 22 countries across four continents which shows how PMI and other tobacco companies target school children with their promotions.
PMI’s new stance of going ‘smoke-free’ is a real smoke-screen since it continues to make the bulk of its profits from cigarette sales. See latest report uncovering PMI’s strategies Addiction at any cost.