Global Tobacco Control Updates
For the second time in recent weeks, international tobacco control advocates are calling on Philip Morris International to withdraw its sponsorship and promotion of a major concert, this time in the Philippines where the company's activities appear to violate national law.
Last month, Philip Morris International withdrew its sponsorship of singer Alicia Keys' concert in Jakarta, Indonesia, after the company was criticized for engaging in cigarette marketing that appealed to children and after Ms. Keys called for the sponsorship to be withdrawn.
Now health advocates are urging Philip Morris International to end its involvement in an August 30 reunion concert by the popular Filipino band Eraserheads, which has been called the "Beatles of the Philippines." Those seeking tickets to the concert are being directed to www.marlboro.ph, a web site run by Philip Morris International's Philippine subsidiary. To receive tickets and information, visitors to the web site must provide personal contact information that would allow Philip Morris International to send them promotional materials for cigarettes.
The reunion concert also has generated enormous Internet buzz that often mentions the Marlboro web site and brand name, resulting in positive publicity for Philip Morris International and its best-selling Marlboro cigarette brand.
Last week, the Philippines Department of Health warned Philip Morris International that it was violating the country's tobacco regulation law. As of July 1, 2008, the law prohibits all forms of tobacco advertising in mass media including the Internet, places strict restrictions on other tobacco promotional activities (for example, allowing promotional displays only at point-of-sale of adult only facilities), and bans tobacco company sponsorship of concerts and other events. Philip Morris International's involvement in the Eraserheads concert appears to violate different aspects of the law.
Health advocates are calling on Philip Morris International and Eraserheads to terminate any tobacco industry involvement in the concert and calling on Philippines government authorities to take action against any violation of the tobacco regulation law.
"Eraserheads members should not allow themselves to be deceived by Philip Morris and should protect their fans from this devious marketing ploy. Considered one of the most influential bands in the Philippines, Eraserheads has become a role model for our youth. I hope they will rise to the challenge and help young Filipinos lead healthy, tobacco-free lives by finding other sponsorship for the concert," said Dr. Maricar Limpin, Executive Director of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Alliance Philippines, a leading tobacco control organization in the Philippines. She called on Eraserheads to follow the example of Alicia Keys and end tobacco industry involvement in the band's concert.
"Once again, Philip Morris International has been caught engaging in cigarette marketing that appeals to children in a developing country and that would not be tolerated in the United States and other wealthier nations," said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "The issue isn't just whether Philip Morris International has violated Philippine law, but whether tobacco companies should be engaged in such youth-oriented marketing anywhere. Philip Morris International should immediately cease all such sponsorships and promotions in all countries."
In the United States, Philip Morris USA and other major tobacco companies are prohibited from engaging in brand name sponsorships of concerts under a 1998 legal settlement with the states. However, in developing countries, tobacco companies continue to sponsor concerts by famous musicians, which health advocates have condemned as a means to market cigarettes to children and to circumvent restrictions on more traditional tobacco advertising.
The World Health Organization's international tobacco control treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, requires ratifying nations to ban all tobacco advertising promotions and sponsorships. To date, 157 countries including the Philippines have ratified the treaty.
Health advocates dismissed Philip Morris International's excuses for its involvement in the Eraserheads concert. The company has argued that access to the concert and its web site is restricted to adults. However, the extensive Internet publicity regarding the concert, which links Eraserheads and Marlboro, has been accessible to all ages. A Philip Morris International spokesman also told Philippines media, "We're not sponsoring the event. We organized it ourselves." This statement indicates an effort to circumvent the sponsorship ban and does not address other possible violations of the Philippines' tobacco regulation law.
Currently, over 17 percent of Philippine youth (age 13-15) and 34.7 percent of adults smoke. According to the Philippines Department of Health, 87,600 Filipinos die each year from smoking-related diseases.