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Blowing Smoke Up Our Asses

Smoke 'Em While You Got 'Em

So I'm watching The Practice and this commercial comes on with a woman thanking the Philip Morris Corporation for funding shelters for battered women and their children.

I should note by the way, that I'm a smoker.

Perhaps this is a measure of my cynicism, but the way this woman was going on about Philip Morris, I half expected her to implore me to "keep on smoking!" Or at the very least, bad-mouth the tobacco settlement.

She did neither, and yet the commercial left me feeling pretty good. Because now I have pretty good ammunition the next time a non-smoker makes a face when I light up: "Hey, I'm doing this for children, pal."

Thank you, Philip Morris!

--James Collier

You gotta love Philip Morris.

Recently, the nation's No. 1 distributor of oral carcinogens launched an ad campaign to let the world know what else it's good at. No longer content to get its props as the leading profiteer of lung cancer, heart disease and emphysema, the company began running a series of Phil-good television commercials last month.

You may not know it, but Philip Morris funds domestic violence centers, sends tangerines to food banks and counsels convenience store clerks against peddling smokes to kids. It's also the corporate parent of Kraft Foods and Miller Brewing.

The company spent $60 million on charitable efforts last year, according to this $100 million "Making a Difference" PR campaign.

Fittingly enough, one of the ads ran during the Oct. 21 episode of ER, which included a storyline about a pregnant woman endangering her fetus by smoking. If this tie-in is a result of corporate synergy between the cigarette maker and a TV network, I hope we'll be seeing more of it in the future -- "tune in next week as Ally McBeal is date-raped by the Marlboro Man in a daffy dream sequence!"

As part of the effort, Philip Morris is even admitting that cigarettes are both unsafe and addictive. Company exec Steven Parrish told an AP reporter that the tobacco conglomerate is committed to improving lives -- not counting, presumably, the 418,000 people each year whose smoking-related deaths disqualify them from further improvement.

I'm a lifetime non-smoker (can you tell?) with genuinely hostile feelings towards Philip, R.J., Brown, Williamson, Joe Camel, the Congressional delegation from North Carolina and both Benson and Hedges. These new TV ads are aimed directly at me, and I haven't felt this much loving attention from a tobacco company since my early teen-age years.

After seeing these commercials, there's a question I'd like to ask Philip Morris and Leo Burnett, the Chicago ad agency that's running this campaign:

What are you smoking?

No amount of TV commercials is going to make me experience branding bliss with a tobacco company. These Kodak moments about battered wives living in Philip Morris shelters may cause a lump in the throat, but most of the smokers in the viewing audience will subsequently schedule a doctor's appointment to check whether that lump is cancerous.

Additionally, no one who feels warmly about a company like Kraft Foods is going to transfer those feelings to Philip Morris. You make a recklessly harmful and addictive product that has killed millions of people and is going to kill at least five million more, according to present estimates. Until last week, you didn't even admit it was harmful, blowing smoke up our ass for so many years the whole country needs a proctological look-see for abnormal cell growth.

Now you're eagerly telling the world you also make Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Kool-Aid drink mix, Oscar Meyer weiners, Miller beer, Jell-O gelatin... a whole family of products not normally associated with merchants of death.

Your "Making a Difference" campaign has already worked. The next time I'm in a building and the Kool-Aid Man bursts through a wall, there's no way I'm going to run towards him to eagerly drink the liquid in his head with my friends.

Instead, I'm calling the cops.

Additional contributions to this article by: Rogers Cadenhead, James Collier.


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