Marlboro makers admit cigarettes can cause cancer

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PHILIP MORRIS, the world's largest cigarette manufacturer, has for the first time acknowledged that scientific evidence shows smoking is addictive and can cause potentially lethal diseases such as cancer.

PHILIP MORRIS, the world's largest cigarette manufacturer, has for the first time acknowledged that scientific evidence shows smoking is addictive and can cause potentially lethal diseases such as cancer.

What might seem like an admission of the obvious is also a profound about-face for the maker of brands such as Marlboro. Like its competitors, it has for years disputed scientific findings about the risks of smoking. In 1994, the heads of major cigarette manufacturers denied - before the United States Congress - that smoking was addictive.

The concession is made in a company website posted this week, which is part of a $100 million (£60 million) promotional campaign, designed to give Philip Morris a friendlier face. "For too long we have let others define who we are," said Stephen Parrish, a senior vice- president. "Now we will focus on getting our story out."

By plainly stating the health risks of smoking, the company is also trying to protect itself against future litigation from consumers who may be taking up the habit now. Philip Morris and the other big tobacco firms - including Brown & Williamson, a subsidiary of British American Tobacco, and R J Reynolds - have come under sustained legal and regulatory assault in the US in recent years. The website says: "There is an overwhelming medical and scientific consensus that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and other serious diseases in smokers.

"Smokers are far more likely to develop serious diseases, like lung cancer, than non-smokers". The company states that there is no "safe cigarette". It goes on to admit that "cigarette smoking is addictive, as that term is most commonly used today". Also on the site - www.philipmorris.com - the company reveals the ingredients of its cigarettes. In addition, it offers advice on how to give up smoking.

Last year, the tobacco companies settled suits launched by all 50 US states, agreeing to pay $246 billion in damages over 25 years and accepting tough new curbs on advertising.

The legal pressure on the industry has still not gone away, however. It faces several lawsuits from smokers themselves and from insurance companies. Last month, the federal government sued to recover some of the $20 billion it spends every year on health programmes related to smoking.

Philip Morris's U-turn was welcomed by David Kessler, former head of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). "It may just be a PR effort," he said yesterday. "But it has important consequences. They are saying that nicotine is an addictive product. Now they should agree to FDA regulation. What other addictive substance is not regulated by the FDA?"

Brown & Williamson went some way towards making a similar admission when it launched a website in April. On it, the firm said it believed that smokers were "taking significant health risks".

In new television advertisements, Philip Morris will try to emphasise its food divisions over its cigarette unit, notably Kraft foods and Miller breweries. Some adverts will highlight recent good deeds, such as funding protection for abused women and helping flood relief.

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