Marlboro Man muscles into anti-smoking drive

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TOBACCO GIANT Philip Morris is offering to help fund a joint anti-smoking campaign aimed at the young in an attempt to soften the Government's war on cigarettes.

TOBACCO GIANT Philip Morris is offering to help fund a joint anti-smoking campaign aimed at the young in an attempt to soften the Government's war on cigarettes.

The move is part of a strategy to put the tobacco industry on the same footing as the alcohol industry's Portman Group, which has won the right to high levels of self-regulation.

The offer is seen as an attempt by the company to take the sting out of any future punitive official action. In Real Life today we reveal the ways tobacco companies are encouraging young people to smoke, despite the ban on cigarette ads coming into force in December.

David R Davies, a vice-president of Philip Morris, told the Independent on Sunday that the company would be prepared to fund an "appropriate campaign" to control under age smoking. He said: "We would put money in if it was the right campaign, but it's no good just telling kids not to smoke. It must be something they take notice of."

Mr Davies said the company would support any move to increase the minimum age for buying cigarettes from 16 to 18 and would help in the production and development of "proof of age" cards.

The company, which makes Marlboro cigarettes, emphasises that it would only commit funds if it is allowed to work closely with the Government and other agencies in the campaign. It is not prepared to give money without participation.

The tobacco industry is aware that it has a tough battle to convince ministers and pressure groups that is is seriously trying to tackle the problem of smoking among the young.

As part of a fresh "campaign of candour" Philip Morris has acknowledged there is "overwhelming medical and scientific consensus" that smoking causes lung cancer and other diseases. It has agreed in the US to pay £1.5bn to settle lawsuits brought by states to recover medical costs incurred in treating smoking-related diseases.

The company's moves come at a time of increasing controversy over the sale of tobacco to young people. On Friday British Telecom publicly apologised for an "error of judgement" after supplying Easy Reach pagers to a promotion for Marlboro cigarettes aimed at 18 to 25-year-olds.

The Department of Health aims to reduce the numbers of child smokers in England by 110,000 and has earmarked £50m for anti-smoking campaigns over the next three years.

The company made its first overtures to the Government in a letter to Consumer Affairs Minister Kim Howells last week, urging him to work with the firm towards creating an identity card for young people to assist shopkeepers selling cigarettes.

This week, in its evidence submitted to the Commons Health Select Committee inquiry into the tobacco industry and the health risks of smoking, Philip Morris stated that "adults should continue to have the right to buy and use our products". However, the company will tell the committee: "We would willingly support the Government if it decides to raise the minimum age to 18.

"In the end, reducing youth smoking will require the efforts of many ­ governments, educators, parents, retailers and manufacturers. Philip Morris is committed to being part of the solution to this problem."