|Jump to full article: New York Times Magazine, 2006-06-18|
Author: JOE NOCERA
When you talk to Steve Parrish about all of this, though, he doesn't use the language tobacco executives once used. He doesn't talk about "individual choice," nor does he pretend that cigarettes aren't addictive. On the contrary: "Cigarettes are addictive and cause the disease and death of hundreds of thousands of people every year," he said in one of our conversations. "When you set tobacco on fire and inhale it into your lungs, bad things happen." In another conversation, he said, "If fewer people died from smoking, that would be good for Altria's shareholders." He says that it is important to keep kids from starting to smoke and freely concedes that tobacco can never be viewed as just another product because it is so deadly. It can be quite startling the first time you hear him say these things.
Most amazing of all, Parrish says that tobacco needs to be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. . . .
But in the months I spent talking to him and others at Altria, I came to a different view. In his own way, Steve Parrish really is trying to solve the cigarette problem. Without question, he is doing so in a way that will allow Altria and Philip Morris USA not just to survive but also to thrive ï¿½ and there are many in the public-health community who view any such solution as abhorrent. But that doesn't mean that his central idea is wrong. When you dig into it, you discover there are good public-health reasons to embrace regulation ï¿½ and compelling business reasons for Philip Morris USA to embrace it, too. "This isn't social work," says Michael Szymanczyk, Philip Morris USA's chief executive.
. . .
I also came to believe that Parrish has another motivation. He is 56 years old. He has been with the company for 16 years. He's not going to be doing this all that much longer. And before he moves on to the next phase of his life, he'd like a little redemption ï¿½ for his company, and for himself.
. . .
What role did Parrish play in the tobacco wars? In the beginning, he led the charge against tobacco's enemies. In the wake of the "Day One" broadcast, Parrish was put in charge of something called the Action Team to orchestrate the company's response to its mounting problems. The first decision the company made was to sue ABC for libel. Philip Morris documents from that era include a draft of a presentation Parrish made to the board describing a Tobacco Strategic Attack Plan that included lawsuits and aggressive ad campaigns. He also commissioned polls and focus groups to figure out which countermessages would work best.
And more often than not, he delivered the message himself. . . .
He mentioned several times how struck he is now, looking at old tapes of himself engaging in angry debates with tobacco's enemies, at his own body language. He appears distinctly uncomfortable. But of course, he was saying things he didn't believe, denying the terrible toll cigarettes take.
. . .
One way to think about what Parrish has been doing ever since is trying to get to back to that place he and Philip Morris were on June 20, 1997, a place that could both reduce the harm caused by smoking ï¿½ and rehabilitate his company. . . .
Altria has taken a number of similar steps. It stopped fighting local smoking-ban ordinances in 2004. It has chosen not to make candy-flavored cigarettes, even though Reynolds makes such a product. Unlike Reynolds, it runs no magazine advertising. . . .
In the public-health community, there are huge divisions as to whether reduced-harm tobacco products are possible, or whether it would even be a good thing if they were developed. . . .
To this day, Myers cannot admit that he and Steve Parrish have occasional contact and that they are both working toward a common goal: F.D.A. regulation. Such an admission would lead to accusations that Myers was consorting with the enemy rather than trying to fix a terrible problem.
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Quotes from this article:
It is easy to hate Altria, and many people do. It is still, above all else, a company that makes its money from cigarettes. It still has all that history to live down. But nearly a decade after the failure to get F.D.A. regulation, hate may no longer be an emotion we can afford.
Joe Nocera, in his NYT Magazine article about Steve Parrish and Altria.
Despite .... the universal knowledge about the dangers of tobacco . . . lots of people still smoke.
Joe Nocera, NY Times writer, giving a little boost to Altria PR in his article.
When you set tobacco on fire and inhale it into your lungs, bad things happen.
Steve Parrish, Altria's senior vice president for corporate affairs.