Philip Morris apologises for controversial report on smoking


The world's largest tobacco manufacturer, Philip Morris, issued an official apology on Thursday for a report compiled by its subsidiary in the Czech Republic that claims that smoking benefits the Czech economy. Although the report met with little reaction in the Czech Republic, it has caused outrage in the United States, and has been condemned by doctors around the world. Nick Carey has the story.

The report, commissioned and published by the Czech subsidiary of Philip Morris last month, claims that smoking benefits the Czech economy. The money the state saves, the report says, on healthcare costs for people who die prematurely from smoking far outweighs the cost of treating them while they are alive. There are also further savings on pensions and benefits for those who die early. The report received little coverage in the Czech Republic, where it was all but ignored by the press. But when the story broke in the US last week, anti-tobacco activists and doctors launched a fierce attack on Philip Morris. Dr Frantisek Kolbel, who represents the Czech Republic in the European committee of the World Health Organisation, dismisses any and all claims that there are benefits to smoking:

"There is no benefit to smoking. I am a cardiologist and internal medicine specialist and I can state very clearly that smoking only brings danger and harm to people's health. I fully agree with the statement of the general director of WHO, Doctor Brudland, who says that smoking is the only human activity which, practised properly, almost invariably results in the smoker's death. There is no place for saying that there may be some profit from smoking."

After a week of hostile press in the US, on Thursday Philip Morris issued an official statement on the report, in which it apologises for what it calls terrible judgement as well as a complete and unacceptable disregard of basic human values. Commissioning this study was not just a terrible mistake, the statement continues, it was wrong. But doctors like Frantisek Kolbel feel that this official apology does not let Philip Morris off the hook:

"I think that it remains a testimony to the very harmful and completely wrong philosophy of Philip Morris. We also have to bear in mind that even negative publicity is publicity. So saying I'm sorry, I have caused you a great injury, doesn't mean anything."

Philip Morris has so far not commented on what further action it intends to take over the report.