Claims in European ads by Philip Morris that exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke poses no greater health risk than eating cookies or drinking milk or chlorinated water has created legal problems for the giant cigarette maker.
The European Commission and several European government officials have attacked the ads as misleading, but it is the food industry which is leading the battle in the courts.
Judges in Brussels and Paris today [6/25] are scheduled to rule on injunctions against the campaign sought by the Belgian and French cookie makers who claims that the ads are deceptive.
The Dutch government, meanwhile, is urging the country's advertising standards association to investigate the Philip Morris campaign.
The Dutch Health Minister, Els Borst, has denounced the ad campaign, aimed at heading off nonsmokers' rights legislation, as "misleading."
In France, the government is reportedly encouraging the country's antismoking lobby to take action against Philip Morris.
The following is a press release ASH issued when the ads first began to appear:
ASH PRESS RELEASE:
BEWARE OF COOKIES, CHLORINATED WATER, AND PEPPER -- PHILIP MORRIS
Many Things Are More Dangerous Than Secondhand Smoke, Says Company But This Ignores Science, as Well as Freedom To Choose, Says ASH
Philip Morris has launched a new ad campaign, trying to convince Europeans that cookies, chlorinated water, pepper, and other common substances are far more dangerous than secondhand tobacco smoke.
But while the former U.S. Surgeon General, American Medical Association, World Health Organization, American Cancer Society, and many other eminent bodies have all determined that secondhand smoke causes over 50,000 nonsmoker deaths each year, no reputable scientific or medical organization has ever though it necessary to compute a body count for cookies, chlorinated water, pepper, or the other alleged killers cited by Philip Morris.
Moreover, a recent report in the journal Pediatrics estimates that parental tobacco smoke kills over 100 children each year as a result of lower respiratory tract infections which prove fatal, and also sends an estimated four million youngsters to hospitals or doctors' offices with a wide variety of ailments.
But this respected medical publication has never seen any need to estimate how many þ if any þ deaths or doctors' visits result from cookie eating.
"Philip Morris' alleged comparison also obscures a key difference between risks people voluntarily choose to take to achieve some benefit for themselves, and those risks thrust upon them by others, " says law professor John Banzhaf, Executive Director of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH).
"There is a world of difference between people who choose to accept the risk of auto racing on a closed track because of the pleasure it brings them, and those who claim to have a right to race their cars on city streets where their pleasure taking seriously endangers others," he says.
People who eat cookies or use pepper risk only their own health, whereas people who smoke endanger all those in the room with them, including children and most adults who in no way desire to accept these dangers.
For example, nonsmoking restaurant patrons are placed at risk by an activity which doesn't benefit them in any way, and which many find seriously detracts from the experience of dining, says Banzhaf.
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