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Understanding Philip Morris's pursuit of US government regulation of tobacco

  • Author(s): McDaniel, Patricia;
  • Malone, Ruth E
  • et al.

Objective: To investigate Philip Morris’s support of U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulation of tobacco products and analyze its relationship to the company’s image enhancement strategies.

Data sources: Internal Philip Morris documents released as part of the Master Settlement Agreement.

Methods: Searches of the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library ( beginning with such terms as “FDA” and “regulatory strategy” and expanding to include relevant new terms.

Results: Philip Morris’s support for government regulation of tobacco is part of a broader effort to address its negative public image, which has a damaging impact on the company’s stock price, political influence, and employee morale. Through regulation, the company seeks to enhance its legitimacy, redefine itself as socially responsible and alter the litigation environment. Whereas health advocates frame tobacco use as a public health policy issue, Philip Morris’s regulatory efforts focus on framing tobacco use as an individual choice by informed adults to use a risky product. This framing allows Philip Morris to portray itself as a reasonable and responsible manufacturer and marketer of risky products.

Conclusions: Philip Morris’s ability to improve its image through support of FDA regulation may undermine tobacco control efforts aimed at delegitimizing the tobacco industry. It may also create the impression that Philip Morris’s products are being made safer and ultimately protect the company from litigation. While strong regulation of tobacco products and promotion remain critical public health goals, previous experiences with tobacco regulation show that caution may be warranted.

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