Citizens for Clean Air and Clean Lungs

Philip Morris Sponsors Events, Ingratiates New York Lawmakers

While legislators in Albany are deciding how to spend the state's tobacco settlement money and which tobacco control messages should be placed on billboards, Philip Morris has been sponsoring and organizing events around the state that involve some of those same legislators.

The events range from a $1,000-a-ticket fund raiser in Manhattan to a domestic violence forum in Westchester. "It's only natural that other leaders have similar interests and our paths intersect," said Richmond Temple, a Philip Morris spokesperson.

But some tobacco control advocates are concerned about Philip Morris' sponsorship of these events. "They put out these events that give elected officials an opportunity to stand up and make speeches and get newspaper coverage and schmooze with community leaders," said Russell Sciandra, director of the Center for a Tobacco Free New York. "It's no different from what a lot of corporations do.

The difference is, they do it on a much larger scale. They're much more focused on the PR value of it, and they're producing a product that kills people."

Lillian Jones of the American Cancer Society in Westchester is asking legislators not to attend these events. "One begins to wonder why politicians would curry favor with people who cost the state that much money," she said.

But Susan Tolchin, a spokesperson for Westchester County executive Andrew Spano, who spoke at PM's domestic violence forum, doesn't see a problem.

"[Spano] has made domestic violence one of his major priorities of his administration. Westchester County has been in the forefront in helping to get back its residents' tobacco money. One thing does not have anything to do with the other."

But legislators are still faced with key decisions that affect the tobacco industry.

Governor George Pataki and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer sparked controversy last month when they decided to put up anti-smoking billboards featuring teens encouraging their peers not to smoke, not messages critical of the tobacco industry, which were found to be the most effective messages in a survey by the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Source: Emi Endo, "Philip Morris: Playing Politics?" (New York) NEWSDAY, May 23, 1999, p. A25.


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