Big Tobacco at the Clinton School: UPDATE | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Big Tobacco at the Clinton School: UPDATE

Posted By on Tue, Apr 8, 2008 at 2:53 PM

This one should be interesting: Susan Ivey, CEO of Reynolds American, second-largest tobacco company and the U.S. and maker of Camel cigarettes, will be speaking at the Clinton School (Sturgis Hall) at noon today. The write-up doesn't say what the topic of the talk will be. How the worlds of big tobacco and public service intertwine, perhaps?

With any luck, Ivey will discuss how tobacco companies have dealt with increasing legal and regulatory scrutiny over the past decade. Recent cases have tried to sue tobacco companies for fraudulently marketing light cigarettes as healthier than regular cigarettes, though that argument was rejected by a federal appeals court last week. Recent regulatory efforts may prove more successful: a bill that would ban marketing cigarettes as 'light' and increase the prominence of warning labels on packs has passed a committee in the U.S. House and is expected to get a floor vote.

Reynolds American, Ivey's company, has been outspoken against the bill and has run ads to counter it. But Philip Morris, the country's biggest tobacco company, has endorsed the bill. (Many anti-tobacco advocates are suspicious of Phillip Morris's motives. For an examination of Phillip Morris's strategy and reactions to it, check out this story from 2006.)

UPDATE: Ivey argued that Reynolds is not opposed to regulation, but that it is opposed to regulation as the House bill proposes it. (Here's a copy of the bill.) She said that the tone of the tobacco debate has not been helpful, that regulators are generally punitive, that serious policy debate about smoking has been limited, and that an abstinence-only approach is counterproductive (though, as far as I can tell, no one is seriously proposing regulations that ban cigarettes.) She especially emphasized that not all tobacco products are equally harmful, and that the industry should work to establish a "continuum of risk" that would reduce the overall health detriments of tobacco products. She cited, for example, a new Camel product called 'Snus', which is a small pouch of tobacco that you place under your lip. On the optimal "continuum of risk", more people would use Snus and less people would smoke cigarettes.
Ivey took about twenty minutes of questions, not all of them friendly. Someone wanted to know why tobacco companies haven't pursued a business strategy that invests in healthier products, like cheese. (Kraft and Reynolds used to be under the same corporate umbrella.) The answer was basically that Reynolds American exists to sell nicotine delivery, and that it's working to develop new tobacco products that aren't as risky as cigarettes. She also took the 'how do you work for a company that kills people' question, to which she gave the 'we don't kill people, people kill people' response -- her job, she said, requires that she believe in the freedom of human choice.

I was unable to get my question in during the session, but I tried to ask Ivey's opinion on why Philip Morris was endorsing the House bill and what specific regulations in the bill Reynolds opposes. After the talk she deferred the question to a PR man. He speculated that Philip Morris may like the stability that cut-and-dried regulations will give the company on the market. But that still doesn't explain why the country's second-biggest tobacco company (Reynolds) wouldn't benefit in the same way. If he gets me some answers to the other parts of the question, I'll write more about this issue.

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