Global Partnerships for Tobacco Control

Report on the Philip Morris Annual Shareholders' Meeting

April 2001

Last Thursday (April 26th), Christine Kuck and Alivia Osborne of Taking ACTION (Meridian High School, ID) and GPTC Coordinator Anna White attended Philip Morris's annual shareholders' meeting in Richmond, VA, along with several dozen members of Infact.

Every Philip Morris shareholders' meeting is a highly scripted pageant at which its leaders do their utmost to project unruffled pride and confidence in their company's brands -- while vehemently denying any responsibility for the global tobacco epidemic projected to kill 10 million annually by the year 2030. Our objective was to break through this facade and to hold PM executives and the board of directors personally accountable for the company's odious practices in the U.S. and around the world.

Please find below some meeting highlights, including: PM CEO Geoffrey Bible's strong reaction to Albanian GPTC participant Sara Bogdani's story, Alivia's testimony on "youth smoking prevention" programs, and an encounter with tennis star Billie Jean King.

Not surprisingly, Bible did not take the opportunity to mention that he quit smoking last year on the recommendation of his doctor!

April 26, 2001

Last year GPTC participant Roland Shuperka of For a Tobacco Free Albania crossed paths with Sara Bogdani, a teenage "Marlboro girl" -- hired by PM to distribute cigarettes in Albania. Sara later saw "Making a Killing" in school during the International Weeks of Resistance to Tobacco Transnationals 2000 and decided to become a youth anti-tobacco advocate. Both Tami Gold, the filmmaker behind the documentary "Making a Killing," and an Infact board member mentioned 17-year-old Sara Bogdani's story in their comments to Geoffrey Bible (who admitted to having seen "parts" of the video, which he called "misleading" and "inaccurate"). In his most defensive remarks of the morning, Bible categorically denied that any underage youth are hired by the company to distribute cigarettes. Note to Albanians: don't be surprised if PM starts a highly-publicized "youth smoking prevention" program in your country soon -- you've dealt the company a huge PR blow.

In addition to juice, pastries, and sandwiches made with Kraft cheese, the main tent held an array of displays on all the "wonderful" things PM is doing, including its efforts to convince youth that "smoking isn't cool." Two entire displays were devoted to the company's "youth smoking prevention" programs -- one for the U.S. and the other for international. The international display highlighted programs in the following countries: Argentina, Austria, Bahrain, Czech Republic, Guatemala, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Panama, Paraguay, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Thailand, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom. Tomas Tesar, a PM employee from the Czech Republic, stood nearby to field questions. At both booths PM employees boasted that their youth programs benefit from broad community and government support, but none could answer the simple question "How do you know that they are effective?" GPTC participant Alivia Osborne of Taking ACTION (Meridian High School, ID) was told that it would be "illegal" for PM to evaluate its programs. And handing out free cigarettes to teenagers is not?

Geoffrey Bible took several opportunities to extol the multiple virtues of the company's "youth smoking prevention" programs in the U.S. and abroad, while dismissing a 13-year-old's comments about the Marlboro Man's popularity among youth. Bible's words didn't sit well with 15-year-old Olivia, who stepped up to the microphone and, without any prepared comments, looked Bible in the eye through the camera and told him off! Her message? Despite all the publicity, PM's "youth smoking prevention" simply do not work -- very credible coming from a sophomore high school student. It was a quintessential moment of speaking truth to power.

Upon entering the PM "coffee hour" tent, we immediately recognized Billie Jean King. For those of you who don't know, Billie Jean King is an international female tennis legend, having won 71 singles titles, including 20 prestigious Wimbledon titles. She is a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the founder of the Women's Sports Foundation. And since 1999, she has been a member of Philip Morris's Board of Directors. A small swarm of people interested in autographs had collected around her. We joined them, and when it came our turn, asked her to autograph a Philip Morris coupon for free cigarettes -- which she did (before noticing our "Proud to be giving the Marlboro Man the Boot stickers"). More than 140,000 women die from tobacco-related illnesses each year in the U.S. alone. Lung cancer is the most fatal type of cancer among U.S. women, killing an estimated 70,000 annually (compared to 41,000 breast cancer deaths). Women, sports, and tobacco just don't mix. Shame on Billie Jean King! See her autograph at

We brought posters representing various GPTC participants' views. One poster was filled with photos of Marlboro ads that violate of Vietnam's recent ban on direct and indirect tobacco advertising. The poster included PATH Canada's demands: stop violating Vietnamese laws, stop promoting Marlboro, stop using the Marlboro Man, and stop fooling and killing the Vietnamese people. A second, complete with a recent L & M advertisement from Georgia (courtesy Dr. Revaz Tataradz), focused on PM's use of U.S. imagery to sell cigarettes. A third bore a question posed to PM board members by Alphonse Issi of the Mouvement National des Consommateurs in Cameroon: What is more important -- profits or public health? Taking ACTION also made two signs, one for their club and one for their partner group in Moldova, that said " [group] gives the Marlboro Man the boot." Since we could not bring the posters into the shareholders' meeting, we decided to take photos of them in the parking lot -- with PM's permanent 100+ foot high monument to the company's most popular cigarette brands in the background. Apparently we were not very discreet. No sooner than we had snapped the first photo we were surrounded by PM security guards who threatened to take our camera away and confiscate the film. We got one more photo before whisking our camera to safety!

In the U.S. there is a saying that "actions speak louder than words." There were six shareholders proposals presented at the meeting, three of which dealt directly with tobacco control: (1) Environmental Tobacco Smoke Education, (2) Ensure that Tobacco Ads are Not Youth-Friendly, and (5) Inform Consumers About the Risks of Smoking. The full text of each is up at The Board recommended that shareholders vote AGAINST each of the proposals. The majority did. The 1st, 2nd, and 5th proposals were supported by, respectively, 6.6%, 7.8%, and 5.8% of shareholders, the proposal for banning youth-friendly advertising being the most popular. PM wants very much to ease "societal concerns" about the hazards of smoking, but apparently not the hazards themselves.

As many tobacco control advocates have noted, PM spends more money advertising its good deeds than on the good deeds itself. Recently, the company has begun to advertise in the U.S. the good deeds it does abroad. Among the television ads shown during the meeting was one about a PM-supported organization that flies "Chernobyl" children from Belarus to the U.S. for medical care. PM funds about 10-15 children a year. Of course, no mention of PM's aggressive advertising in Belarus, where 55% of the male population smokes. Another ad profiled PM employee Molly Walsh in a reenactment of her helping to deliver 5 tons of PM-donated food to refugees in Kosovo.

Allusions to World War II were numerous throughout the meeting. A woman from Virginia GASP, for instance, told of her dad receiving free cigarettes during the war, only to become addicted to the habit. At one point Geoffrey Bible took the opportunity to compare the freedoms people fought for during World War II to those that the company now wants to uphold -- the freedom to choose [to smoke & to do so in public places]. What he really meant was "the freedom to make a profit off of addicting millions of people around the world to a deadly product." As GPTC participant Alphonse Issi of the Mouvement National des Consommateurs (Cameroon) noted in sample questions for PM board members, cigarettes have killed more people than all the world wars combined. Some choice!

PM's annual report has a two-page overview of its international tobacco sales, complete with staged shots of young, smiling, healthy people posing with cigarettes in Spain, Mexico, and Japan. In particular, the report sites a 7.3% volume growth in Asia, fueled by "Marlboro" in Indonesia, Malaysia, Korea, Thailand and Japan -- and double-digit volume growth in Russia, Ukraine, Romania and Mexico. In the section "Addressing Societal Concerns," the company mentions the proposed Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, support for governments' efforts to establish minimum age laws and prohibit sales to minor, and PM's 130 youth smoking prevention programs in over 70 countries.

In many countries around the world, consumer boycotts have been successful in pressuring those in power to stop various forms of oppression. During the meeting, Geoffrey Bible boasted that the company has 91 "$100 million" brands, including 15 "mega" brands with annual earnings over $1 billion. Non-smokers who are opposed to tobacco companys' aggressive promotion of their carcinogenic products around the world can register discontent with the companies by boycotting their non-tobacco products. A recent Harris Interactive corporate reputation survey found that 16% of respondents familiar with Philip Morris have boycotted its products over the past year. Infact has launched an international boycott of PM's Kraft brand <>. But PM also owns Miller Beer, Nabisco, Post, Balance Bars, Altoids, Lifesavers, Planters peanuts, Oscar Meyers, Boca Burgers, Maxwell Coffee, Jell-O, and Kool-Aid, among many others. There is a full list of PM's brands in the company's annual report. Contact us if you want a copy of it. Some partnerships might want to investigate which non-tobacco PM brands are sold in their respective communities and then do a joint campaign to alert their patients, colleagues, neighbors, and/or fellow students to locally sold PM-owned brands -- and how company uses them to leverage political power.

...inviting the Ku Klux Klan* to draft civil rights legislation -- so said an African-American Infact board member from California. In his testimony he focused on the dozens of IWR2001 events, many organized by GPTC participants, that have taken place around the world in the past month leading up to the FCTC negotiations in Geneva this week. Again, thanks to all of you who collected petition signatures and planned events.
*The Ku Klux Klan is a racist group based in the U.S. with a long history of violence against non-whites.

In addition to PM product samplers, Kraft grocery cart magnets and "Oreo Man" toys, we picked up a stack of PM brochures, booklets, and reports. If you would like copies of any of them, let us know. They include:

  • Philip Morris Companies Inc. 2000 Annual Report
  • Philip Morris International Youth Smoking Prevention
  • Philip Morris USA Youth Smoking Prevention -- Strengthening Resolve, Building Resilience
  • PM contributions: AIDS, Culture, Domestic Violence, Environment, Hunger, PM Corporate Contribution Guidelines
  • Kraft Foods Domestic Violence Grant Program
  • Working to make a difference. The people of Philip Morris
  • Make Your Voice Heard! -- folder of information re: how shareholders can lobby for a "tough but reasonable" framework giving the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to regulate cigarettes. Also mentions FCTC.
  • Past, Present and Future: Diversity in Action at The Philip Morris Family of Companies
  • Options -- "Accomodation: A Reasonable Approach to Public-Place Smoking"
  • Philip Morris Companies Inc. 2001 Fact Book
  • Let's Talk. A family guide to making responsible choices (Miller Brewing Company)
  • 2001 Annual Stockholders Meeting Survey re: "accomodating non-smokers" at future meetings

Essential Action
Global Partnerships for Tobacco Control

P.O. Box 19405 ~ Washington, DC 20036
Tel: +1 202-387-8030 ~ Fax: +1 202-234-5176
Email: [email protected]