Marlboro Man: into the sunset please

The case of Enron is one of the clearest examples of corporate abuse of power that has been dragged out into the daylight in recent memory. The unfolding scandal is creating a public outcry for checks and balances over corporate behavior. The fight to reform the campaign finance system has been given a new breath of life.

It has become common practice for corporate executives to grease the palms of the political decision-makers meant to regulate them. It is also no secret that the Bush administration’s ties to Enron run extremely deep. But because blatant corporate influence-peddling has become the norm in our political system, that does not mean that most people in the United States think that it is okay.

On the contrary, the overwhelming majority of Americans believe that giant corporations have too much power in D.C. For all of the pain that the Enron debacle has caused to ordinary people who have lost their jobs and life savings, the positive side may yet be that the scandal provides enough momentum to pass long-overdue campaign finance reform laws.

The idea of corporate accountability, only recently dismissed as a little left of left-wing, has moved to center stage. Even President Bush, who has consistently prioritized corporate profit over public health and the environment in his tenure thus far, is responding – in words if not actions yet – to the growing public concern about corporate abuse. In his State of the Union address, Bush called for corporations to be more accountable.

There is a long list of people who should take note of the public demand for corporate accountability, including public policymakers and corporate executives. At the top of that list is Louis Camilleri, who was recently named as the next CEO of Philip Morris, the world’s largest and most profitable tobacco corporation. The Camilleri announcement came just one day after Bush’s State of the Union address.

Corporate accountability advocates are urging Camilleri to use his upcoming role as Philip Morris CEO to halt the tobacco giant’s abusive practices.

The national corporate watchdog organization Infact, which since 1993 has been challenging the tobacco industry to stop advertising and promotion that appeals to young people and to stop interfering in public health policy, joins others in raising concerns about where Camilleri will lead Philip Morris.

When Camilleri assumes his CEO position, he will take the helm of a corporation that has tried desperately to polish its tarnished image with little results.

Despite a 1,712 percent increase in spending between 1998 and 2000 on corporate image advertising highlighting its ownership of Kraft Foods, Philip Morris ranked 59th out of 60 corporations in a recent Harris Interactive survey on corporate reputations released by the Wall Street Journal. The latest in a series of dramatic PR moves came last November when Philip Morris announced plans to change its name to Altria Group, Inc. later this year.

Camilleri claims to want to make Philip Morris a better corporate citizen, but actions speak louder than words. He will face a growing Kraft boycott, pressuring him to break from Philip Morris’s deadly history.

Retiring the Marlboro Man, the image that has made Marlboro the number one kids’ cigarette in the United States and the number one brand internationally, will be an important first step for him to take.

The Marlboro Man has ridden into stores and homes for decades, carrying children into the sunset of tobacco addiction and illness. Communities across the country have joined in calling for an end to the Marlboro Man promotional campaign, focusing on retail outlets where the image is still prominent.

From Philadelphia to Seattle and Miami to Minneapolis, more than 300 stores have responded to community pressure by removing the Marlboro cowboy and related imagery.

The movement to drive the Marlboro Man image out of towns from coast to coast is rooted in the growing demand for corporate accountability recently fueled by the Enron fiasco. In homes and stores across the United States, ordinary people are demanding that the voice of giant corporations be tempered.

Patricia Lynn is Infact’s associate campaign director. Since 1977, Infact has been exposing life-threatening abuses by transnational corporations and organizing grassroots campaigns to hold corporations accountable to consumers and society at large.