Anti-tobacco advocates are asking Philip Morris International (PMI) to pull the plug on its ongoing “Be a Marlboro” campaign for allegedly targeting minors in at least 50 countries.A report, titled “You’re the Target,” made public last Thursday said that the global campaign, created by Leo Burnett, revamps Marlboro’s image to appeal and recruit a new younger generation of smokers.PMI has done away with the iconic Marlboro Man around 2011, replaced by characters like musicians, bikers and lovers asking teens to let go off inhibitions - succinctly summarized by the copy “Don’t be a maybe. Be Marlboro.”PMI insists that Marlboro’s new brand image was designed for young adults but six international public health organizations behind the joint study claims they are targeting kids as young as 13 and even younger.“While tobacco companies claim publicly that they do not market to youth or design marketing campaigns that target them, a 2013 study conducted in low- and middle-income countries showed that 22% of five- and six-year-olds surveyed were able to correctly identify Marlboro cigarettes, the world’s best-selling cigarette brand,” the report stated.Especially at risk are the Philippines and Indonesia where smoking prevalence remain high. There are 17 million smokers in the Philippines and 65 million smokers in Indonesia.The 2007 Global Youth Tobacco Survey said that 22.7% of 13 to 15 year olds in the Philippines use tobacco.“Both the Philippines and Indonesia are cash cows for PMI and other tobacco companies,” said Dr. Mary Assunta, senior policy advisor of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA).The best solution, according to the group, is a comprehensive ban on all forms of advertising, promotion and sponsorship, shutting down the multi-million mouthpiece used by the tobacco industry to reach existing smokers and recruit new ones. PMI alone spent US $7 billion on marketing in 2012.For the Philippines, the most likely place where smoking habits are formed among the youth are retail outlets, said Reyes. To date, the country’s still allows point-of-sale advertisements provided in RA 9211.“Tobacco companies have to stop lying that they do not advertise to children,” said Atty. Irene Patricia Reyes,” managing director of HealthJustice.“Children are exposed to tobacco advertising at retail outlets, and advertisements such as the “Be Marlboro” ads are designed just to do that. The advertisement make it appear that smoking makes them look cool by associating positive qualities, such as decisiveness or being adventurous, with smoking cigarettes,” she adds.In addition to SEATCA, the groups behind the report include Corporate Accountability International, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Alliance for the Control of Tobacco Use, Tobacco Control Alliance, Framework Convention Alliance and InterAmerican Heart Foundation.
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