ATLANTA: In the wake of the blockbuster dollars 145 billion damages award against Big Tobacco, even the industry’s most stalwart supporters are abandoning ship - rendering an already difficult PR battle downright impossible.
ATLANTA: In the wake of the blockbuster dollars 145 billion
damages award against Big Tobacco, even the industry’s most stalwart
supporters are abandoning ship - rendering an already difficult PR
battle downright impossible.
Coverage following the Florida jury’s decision suggested that the
industry has lost ground in the courtroom of public opinion and in
Congress - though not on Wall Street, where stock prices of the
companies in the lawsuit have barely fluttered.
While a Gallup poll published last Tuesday showed that 59% of Americans
agree with the defense’s contention that smokers are ’mostly or
completely to blame’ for their illnesses, that figure has slipped since
state attorneys general filed suit against Big Tobacco - it was 64% in
Much to the collective surprise of the companies in the lawsuit, the
dollars 100 million per year Big Tobacco has been spending to foster a
new image as a community-focused industry that cares about kids was
held against them in the courtroom.
Dr. Michael Siegel, an associate professor at the Boston University
School of Public Health, testified that messages crafted by the tobacco
industry were unlikely to be effective in curbing youth smoking. His
testimony, according to many onlookers, took the air out of the
industry’s presentation of its recent good works.
Philip Morris director of communications John Sorrels, however,
downplayed the impact of Siegel’s words. ’It’s a little
counter-intuitive to say the tobacco industry is offering forbidden
fruit when everyone from the Clinton administration down is saying kids
shouldn’t smoke,’ he explained.
Perhaps the biggest test of whether Big Tobacco’s PR is working is on
the political plain, where the industry continues to fight heightened
regulation. But two days after the verdict, one of the most powerful
voices in Congress showed little sympathy for the industry.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott called Big Tobacco ’arrogant,’
adding, ’I think they have targeted some of their advertising,
knowingly or otherwise, to young people. I think they needed to make
the product safer, and they could have. It’s pretty hard to defend
Sorrels insisted that his industry has reformed: ’Clearly, the
restrictions in the master settlement agreement are enforceable and
make sure that the companies don’t cross the line and market to kids.’