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Report: Philip Morris polled teens on smoking

tobacco teen

December 15, 1996
Web posted at: 6:00 p.m. EST

RICHMOND, Virginia (CNN) -- Philip Morris, the nation's largest tobacco company, has used pollsters to quiz young people about their smoking attitudes, according to a newspaper report about internal company documents.

The company, which denies targeting children, had teen-agers as young as 14 questioned at beaches, drive-ins and other "hangouts" in the mid-1970s, according to the documents quoted by Sunday's Richmond Times-Dispatch.

"True answers on smoking habits might be difficult to elicit in the presence of parents," Roper Researchers Associates advised Philip Morris in a 1970 memo.

"We recommend interviewing young people at summer recreation centers."

A 1983 memo written by a company economist put a smokers' spin on polling data indicating more young adults were smoking: "I commented on the encouraging upward trend in smoking prevalence among 18-29-year-olds -- encouraging because of the importance of these younger smokers to Philip Morris."

The documents, which span the 1970s and 1980s, were given to the Times-Dispatch by plaintiffs' lawyers who are suing the tobacco industry. Some 240 lawsuits are pending against the industry.

"These documents are the strongest evidence that Philip Morris was looking at children as a key to the Marlboro market," said Matthew Myers, of the National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids.

But Philip Morris dismissed the polling studies as old material released by plaintiffs "to influence judges and potential jurors."

"There's a phalanx of entrepreneurial plaintiffs' lawyers making charges that simply can't be supported by the facts," said Philip Morris attorney Michael York.

The documents only demonstrate media manipulation, York said.

"The fact is, this company doesn't market to kids," he said.

In February, a federal judge in Greensboro, North Carolina, will hear arguments on the industry's attempts to block new government regulations of tobacco advertising directed at youngsters.

Harry O'Neill, vice chairman of the Roper division of Roper Starch Worldwide Inc., said the company still does marketing research for Philip Morris, but not the kind indicated in the documents.

"I know nothing about those studies," O'Neill said. "Obviously we did them back then ... Now we would not do it, nor do they even request we do (studies) among kids."

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