Magazine article Management Today

A Smoke Signal to the Investor

Magazine article Management Today

A Smoke Signal to the Investor

Article excerpt

Across Europe the advertising blitz is reaching a new intensity. One day it's maps of city centres with a smoking section marked off in heavy black lines; the next, contemplation of the brevity of Pythagoras' Theorem against the 24,942 words of EU legislation on smoking. `The passion to regulate down to the finest detail of people's lives can lead to infringements of personal liberty,' the text intones in the full-page ads.

Behind this multi-million pound exercise in `issues' advertising is Philip Morris, the world's largest tobacco company. Its objective is to convince Europeans that smoking is not merely a personal pleasure but a fundamental human right. `We want to stir rational debate before things get out of hand,' says a company spokesman.

For tobacco companies, long used to public assault, these are particularly worrying times. The EU market, worth 52[pounds] billion in annual sales, is now under serious threat on two interrelated fronts; growing anti-smoking sentiment among the public, and a raft of new local and EU legislative initiatives that would dramatically curtail cigarette marketing, impose restrictions on smoking in public places and require tough, new health warnings. Among the moves that are setting off alarm bells are a rigorous anti-smoking ban on Bournemouth beaches and recent legislation in Italy to ban smoking in all workplaces.

It smacks increasingly of the draconian anti-smoking backlash in the US, where Philip Morris, along with rival RJR Nabisco, was particularly badly mauled. Determined not to get hammered the same way in Europe it views the Continent as the next battleground, where strong, pre-emptive public relations and lobbying may yet save the day. While other companies have yet to take such a combative approach, many tacitly support Philip Morris's tactics. `Our industry must stand up and be counted now,' says Michael Prideaux, BAT's director of corporate affairs. `We must get the voice of reason to prevail.'

Brussels insiders estimate that tobacco industry lobbying at the EU has more than doubled in the last four years. The industry is also increasingly focusing on the individual governments of the EU members to influence EU policy, even where the local market is relatively small. …

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