Philip Morris Sees the Light

Wayne Grytting

After decades of
sticking their heads in the sand about the hazards of tobacco, Philip Morris
has found a new tactic—promoting the benefits to society of premature deaths
from smoking. A study produced for them by Arthur D. Little, one of the
“foremost management consulting firms,” found the early deaths of smokers has
“positive effects” for society that more than counteract the medical costs of
treating smoking induced cancer, etc.

path-breaking research was limited to smoking in Czechoslovakia. It found that
in 1999, despite health care costs for dying smokers, the government still had
a net gain of $147.1 million from smoking. From these figures, the American
Legacy Foundation calculated the Czech government saved $1,227 per dead
smoker. That’s a pretty good return, as Philip Morris proudly informed
government leaders in the Czech Republic.

Philip Morris
has since come in for a flood of criticism and has publicly apologized for the
conclusions, which is too bad, because the report makes fascinating reading.
It is, as the authors state, “The results of the exercise of our best
professional judgment.”

What makes the
study such a model of American scholarship is the care taken to leave no
stones unturned. Not only did the Arthur D. Little researchers find out
precisely how much early deaths save on health care expenses, housing for the
elderly, social security, and pensions, they also uncovered savings from
premature deaths in areas we non-experts would never dream to look.

Who would think
to look at the effect of smoking deaths on unemployment? These authors did,
and they found that “replacing those who die early…leads to savings in
social benefits paid to the unemployed and in costs of re-training.”

But it gets
even better. The researchers, with obvious relish, note that when a smoker
dies prematurely, the savings to the state for that year “is only one part of
the positive effect.”

There’s more to
come. You need to look at all the other years the smoker would have lived had
she or he not smoked, because, we are told, “The savings will therefore
influence the public finance balance of smoking in future years(!)” It’s a
gift that keeps on giving.

Lest you think
Philip Morris is alone in recognizing the benefits to society of early deaths,
know that they are in good company. Four years ago, Alabama arrived at similar
conclusions in a report by their Attorney General that escaped public notice.
This story was covered, as far as I know, only by the Opelika-Auburn News.

Attorney General Bill Pryor found, “Smoking-related health costs are not
excessive, because smokers die young.” This breathtaking conclusion was the
result of an 89-page report. The Alabama study also pointed to even more
studies that “show taxpayers actually save money in costs for nursing homes,
insurance, pensions, and Social Security benefits because smokers die earlier
than non-smokers.”

State Farm
Insurance followed the same line of reasoning in a study defending Sport
Utility Vehicles (SUVs). Their researchers reported: “Sport utility vehicles
may actually save insurers money in a few accidents, by killing people who
might otherwise have survived with serious injuries. Severe injuries tend to
produce larger settlements than deaths.”

Philip Morris,
famous for its slogan “Today’s teenager is tomorrow’s potential regular
customer,” has been working hard to spruce up its image. This past year it
spent $100 million on charity. Of course, it spent $150 million telling people
about their charitable giving, but this 3-to-2 ratio is actually quite modest
for an American corporation.

The Philip
Morris report is no isolated travesty of reason. The language of the study,
with its abundance of “objectivity,” “quantification,” “demographic data,” and
“statistical analysis,” would be at home in any university or corporation.
It’s the same brand of impersonal, machine-like reasoning. This is our culture
speaking.                            Z