Alex Massie

Welcome to Marlboro Country Where Regulation is King-Sized

Text settings

A splendid piece by Tim Carney in the Washington Examiner explaining why Philip Morris* is quite happy to hop into bed with anti-smoking campaigners and lobby for more federal regulation of tobacco.

As Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., push bills this spring to heighten federal regulation of tobacco, expect newspapers to present “both sides” of the story by quoting cigarette giant RJ Reynolds opposite a group like Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids — painting the kind of industry-versus-do-gooder picture that characterizes coverage of most regulatory battles.

But, as usual, that picture is false. The most important ally of the “Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act” is Philip Morris, the largest cigarette maker in the world. The anti-smoking groups, which have only a fraction of Philip Morris’ lobbying clout and no generous political action committees, are sideshows in this debate...

The company controls more than half of the U.S. cigarette market, and its sister company, Philip Morris International, is rapidly expanding in the growing overseas market. Parent company Altria has hired three new lobbying firms so far this year, bringing its army to 19 different lobbying firms plus a powerful in-house shop.

And Philip Morris, openly and without qualification, backs Kennedy’s and Waxman’s bills to heighten regulation of tobacco. 

Philip Morris stands to benefit from this regulation in many ways. First, all regulation adds to overhead, and thus falls more heavily on smaller firms. Second, restrictions on advertising help Philip Morris’ Marlboro, a brand everyone already knows, by keeping lesser-known brands in the shadows. (Existing restrictions on advertising have already helped Philip Morris in this regard, with an added benefit spelled out in Altria’s annual report: “Marketing and selling expenses were lower, reflecting regulatory restrictions on advertising and promotion activities. … ”)

Fancy that! This is not a matter of unintended consequences - or not merely that - but an inescapable feature of government intervention in areas in which it has no business interfering. 

*Disclosure: I've been a daily consumer of Philip Morris products for 20 years and more or less think I should do the job done by Nick Naylor in Thank You For Smoking. Then again, Big Tobacco has failed us many times before and there's little reason to suppose it won't do so again.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articleInternationalsmoking