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Tobacco industry’s double standard: Corrective statement in USA but promoting tobacco business in ASEAN

20 August 2023

Starting July 1, the tobacco industry in the US will make corrective statements describing the health effects and addictiveness of smoking in retail stores for three months. These new statements which are the result of a court order, must be placed in highly visible spots within the stores, designed to be eye-catching and provide accurate information



In 2006, the District Court for the District of Columbia found Philip Morris USA Inc., Altria, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, and four cigarette brands owned by ITG Brands LLC guilty of violating civil racketeering laws (RICO Act) and defrauding consumers about the health harms of cigarette smoking along with marketing to children and had to make corrective statements. But the tobacco companies fought these point-of-sale corrective action statements in court for 16 years, and finally must comply.

US Judge Kessler in her 1,683-page judgement concluded, “The evidence in this case clearly establishes that the Defendants have not ceased engaging in unlawful activity …”  

Among the remedies (as summarized by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids) are:

  • Prohibit the tobacco companies from committing acts of racketeering in the future or making false, misleading or deceptive statements concerning cigarettes and their health risks.
  • Ban terms including “low tar,” “light,” “ultra light,” “mild” and “natural” that have been used to mislead consumers about the health risks of smoking.
  • Require the tobacco companies to report marketing data annually to the government.

Corrective statements first appeared in 2017 in US newspaper advertisements, television spots, and other media. Then in May 2022, an agreement was reached that these corrective statements must be displayed in more than 200,000 stores that sell cigarettes.

While Philip Morris USA and the other tobacco companies must display these corrective statements at points of sale in the US, this is not required elsewhere in the world. Through this double standard, these companies escape providing truthful information in other countries.

Philip Morris USA is a different company from Philip Morris International (PMI) although they both sell the Marlboro brand of cigarettes.

Marlboro cigarettes are sold in more than 150 countries. In the Philippines, they are sold by Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corp (PMFTC, controlled by PMI) and advertises the brand at points of sale. The US corrective statement is not required in the Philippines. Filipino consumers continue to be persuaded by its cheap cigarettes and promotions (Figure 2).

While America is informed of the dangers of smoking by a company found guilty of misleading consumers, in the Philippines, little sari-sari shops (pop and mom shops) sell single Marlboro sticks for as little 7 pesos (US$0.12) with no such corrective statements.

Figure 2: Promotions of Marlboro cigarettes in the Philippines and Indonesia

Marlboro single sticks promotion, 7-8 Pesos per stick, Cavite, Philippines Dauis-Panglao Road, Lourdes, Panglao, Bohol, Philippines Marlboro Lights advertisement near Legian Beach Hotel, Bali

PMFTC has fostered relations with top policy makers to promote its business. Last November, the Philippines President and First Lady met with the Philip Morris International executives in their palace. Contents of the meeting were not made public. Now trade officials are promoting the tobacco industry. Recently the Trade Undersecretary endorsed the PMFTC’s plans to invest P9 billion in its factory in Batangas to manufacture heated tobacco products. PMFTC already has a factory there manufacturing  cigarettes.  

The Department of Health (DOH) countered this endorsement calling it a move that “may result in the proliferation of these harmful products and worsening of the tobacco epidemic in the country” and reminded the country’s economic managers that promoting the Philippines to investors as a manufacturing hub for heated tobacco products (HTPs) runs counter to government policies that aim to protect the population from tobacco-related illnesses.Indonesia remains among only a handful of countries in the world that still allows tobacco advertising. Marlboro cigarettes are advertised on billboards easily seen by children. Cigarette advertisements are found near schools, directed at school children.

Just last month, in July, a new Health bill was passed in the Indonesian Parliament. Unfortunately, this new law meant to protect public health does not ban tobacco advertising and sponsorship, leaving PMI’s affiliate PT HM Sampoerna to continue promoting its cigarettes and sponsor activities.  About 17 million Indonesian youth (10-19 years) start smoking every year.

Tobacco companies continue to sell light and low tar cigarettes outside the US and don’t report how much they spend on marketing tobacco to the government.

Indonesia and the Philippines must implement a comprehensive ban on all forms of tobacco advertising, promotions and sponsorship. The tobacco industry should not be promoted.