Self-serving playbook

Guns or tobacco, corporation strategy similar

March 22, 2013

March 22, 2013

I was recently reminded of a nasty piece of self-serving logic that rivals anything concocted by Republicans at the height of the voter suppression movement during the last election (and which continues today), i.e., a report issued by the Phillip Morris Company in 2001. It was a glimpse into the shadows corporation-think.

The Phillip Morris report was intended to counter efforts to raise tobacco taxes in the Czech Republic and “... touted the ‘positive effects’ that early mortality due to smoking had on the country’s economy.” Even though its action was later exposed, and Phillip Morris issued a public apology out of one side of its mouth, out of the other it was saying similar things to Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia (

In the best of circumstances, a human being thinks with his or her heart and brain and filters thoughts through a conscience, but don’t forget that corporations have no hearts or brains. They’re not like natural people. Corporations think with their Accounting Department and operate without conscience — unless you want to call their Legal and Public Relations departments their conscience. The logic of corporations is of a more primitive sort and has no shame component.

The argument Phillip Morris made was that smokers, by dying early, saved the Czech government $30 million due to reduced health-care costs in 1999 — savings not just in actual medical costs, but also in reductions in pensions and housing costs for the elderly. The report called this “... an indirect positive effect of smoking.”

Phillip Morris’s logic was that reducing the average life span by 5.23 years helped offset higher health-care costs related to nicotine addiction. The corporation used statistical info in the report to influence Czech politicians and officials ... but this should sound familiar since U.S. oil and arms corporations, among others, stupefy politicians with whacked statistics while beating them into submission using clubs fashioned of thousand-dollar bills.

But why did Phillip Morris stop there? Following its reasoning, all governments could reap billions in health care costs by mandating that everyone but a select few be subject to nicotine addiction with a shot in the butt of nicotine concentrate as we slip from the womb. This would have an added benefit to tobacco corporations of not requiring huge expenditures for ads to snag greenhorns barely out of Huggies. At 5, we’d be weaned from pure nicotine to Marlboros and at 20, seeing an oncologist. Or how about eliminating hypocrisy entirely? Cut to the chase. Just make infanticide legal, an integral part of state health programs. Think of the reduced health care costs then.

What is it with these people —have they no self-respect? But this is how corporations corrupt. The most recent example of corporate-think in the news today is that of the arms industry, which will lobby to its last breath (if corporate persons had lungs) to put guns in the hands of as many people as possible. They will fight tooth and nail using front organizations like the NRA to hold the line against background checks and the banning of automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines. They will spend millions to pay off representatives (who also seem devoid of brains, hearts and consciences) to stave off such things as public health studies of the widespread effects of gun violence on our society (corporations fear that widespread knowledge may lead to action).

Case in point: “In 1996, pro-gun members of Congress mounted an all-out effort to eliminate the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).”

Why would they do this? Of course there may be more than one reason, but coincidentally (although pro-gun members failed to defund the center) “... the House of Representatives removed $2.6 million from the CDC’s budget — precisely the amount the agency had spent on firearm injury research the previous year,” wrote Arthur Kellerman and Frederick Rivera in “Silencing the Science on Gun Research.”

Just as the tobacco industry’s European solution to high health care costs is more sickness leading to more early deaths, the NRA/arms industry’s solution to gun violence is more ignorance and more guns.

This is the nut of corporate-think, something that goes against the health and well-being of all.

Culleny lives in Shelburne Falls, works in construction, is a singer/songwriter, and has done commentary for National Public Radio. His email address is

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