Philip Morris: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly


While struggling to choose a company to analyze for this paper, I decided to take a short cigarette break to clear my thoughts before making my final decision. As I was sitting outside my mod, thinking about potential companies, I looked down at my cigarette and immediately thought about the fact that even choosing to work for a tobacco company can be considered ethically wrong. After my short break, I did some research on tobacco companies and eventually decided to focus on Philip Morris, one of the most successful but reviled corporations in America.

In the US, more than 400,000 people die annually from smoking-related diseases. Because of this, Philip Morris employees are constantly faced with the same question at one point or another: “How can you work for a company that kills people?” This question can be answered in so many different ways and made me think about all the reasons for why Philip Morris employees made the decision they did. The main reason that comes to mind is $$$. However, after doing some research, I found that contrary to popular belief, there is actually a good side to Philip Morris. Philip Morris works so hard to make up for their unethical practices by doing good deeds for society. They are actually considered one of the world’s most generous corporations. For example, they spent about $100 million on a campaign to persuade kids not to smoke. In addition, they paid nearly $8.5 billion over the course of a year to reimburse states for the cost of treating smoking-related illnesses. On top of all that, they annually contribute about $60 million in cash and $15 million in food to fight hunger and domestic violence and to support the arts.

In my opinion, (sorry to all those anti-smokers out there) Philip Morris is a successful company that has found a great way to make a lot of money. Cigarettes are lawful products that any adult should have the right to buy. Every person has the freedom to choose whether or not they get into smoking. I believe it’s quite similar to buying a handgun, drinking a martini, or even eating a big mac. However, my own opinion does not reflect that of society as many people today are trying to find ways of getting rid of cigarettes completely. Many companies are spending a lot of money on campaigns to attempt to put corporations like Philip Morris out of business.

Because it’s so controversial, I thought it would be a great idea to analyze Philip Morris in general to find out whether they should be considered ethical or unethical using the different views that we learned in class such as consequentialism and deontology. I think it will be interesting to investigate both the good and the bad sides of this largely hated company.

Please let me know what you guys think and whether I should focus on the company as a whole or one situation/ethical dilemma they were faced with at some point.

Some sources I have used so far:

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8 thoughts on “Philip Morris: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

  1. Interesting topic Patxi! I find it surprising that the company funnels $8.5 billion over the course of the year to reimburse states on the cost of smoking-related illnesses. While I guess that it is nice to see a company own up and address the potential societal problems it product is correlated with, I am not necessarily sure if that equates to CSR. It is almost like they are covering up the problem by masking it with money- definitely an interesting topic choice with a lot to discuss in regards to ethics

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  2. Definitely agree with the pure business view of allowing PM to sell their product. Every person can choose whether they want to buy their product. The only real way I see cigarettes stopping production is if the internal management has an ethical breakdown/breakthrough and decides they no longer want to produce. But even then I believe someone else would step in at the prospect of making that kind of money.

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    1. It is definitely an existential question. At one time, many of the tobacco companies tried to shield themselves by buying lots of other companies. RJR Reynolds making Oreos and so on. In that case, a conglomerate could sell off or phase out the product line. But that doesn’t address the important question of whether the firm should even exist.

      As long as it is legal in some form, then we can assume there will be enough economic demand to sustain some sort of tobacco production. What I am noticing now as I am thinking about this is that tobacco seems to be treated differently than alcohol or legalized marijuana… or prescription opiads (that is another issue!)… which are all discretionary products that give pleasure and have significant public health impacts. One can say tobacco is different due to second hand smoke. But there are lots of people harmed by alcohol abuse beyond the drinker (car accidents is one obvious example).

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  3. I think it would be interesting to see how Philip Morris does its marketing in developing countries in Africa where smoking is a much greater problem than it is in the US and Europe. I believe that, since people may not be as well educated about the dangers of smoking cigarettes as we are here, by looking at their behavior in those countries you would be able to see the true colors of the company!
    Excited to see your conclusions about this topic!

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  4. Patxi, this is going to be a great paper, I am glad that you chose a topic so close to home. I think analyzing the morality of Philip Morris from an ethical perspective will be very interesting. There has been much scrutiny against tobacco companies, it would seem that if they truly cared about the damage they caused then they would just stop production altogether. Sure, they would suffer insurmountable losses but it is hard to understand how a donation here and a donation there justifies their business practices. From a logical perspective, it is clear that Philip Morris has one true goal of producing and selling as many cigarettes as possible. What they do is similar to breaking someones leg but then offering to pay for the surgery, at the end of the day the man’s leg is fine but was it really worth the pain? Just some thoughts that you could potentially discuss in your paper.

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    1. Amusing examples. Except the leg breaking would have to feel good.

      It is like someone selling you a toxic substance that makes you feel good, and then offering to pay an art museum some money to make up for poisoning you.

      Oh, wait, that is what it is. 🙂

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  5. What companies are spending money to force PM out of business? Do you mean activist groups seeking to outlaw smoking? Those aren’t companies. Do you mean organizations?

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  6. This has potential, but you need to stay focused and not devolve into a rant for smokers’ rights.

    I think defining the issue narrowly around the choice to work or not for a tobacco company is a good question. Sure, smoking kills. So does butter. But people must eat while smoking is voluntary. That is not a reason NOT to compare food and tobacco companies, but it is a factor.

    The guns issue is also interesting. If it weren’t for the 2nd amendment, the whole debate would be different. Although, on a side note, if one really believes in the 2nd amendment the way the NRA pushes it, then she or he should support citizens owning tanks and nuclear missiles.

    You need a clear ethical focus. You seem to be thinking about consequentialism. In that case, it would be about the benefits and harms for the person deciding to work or not for Philip Morris.

    In terms of more specifics, I point out that people now do know that smoking is harmful. So, it is not the same as working at a tobacco company in the 1950s-90s. At the same time, it is one thing to offer the product, another to market it to seek to create nicotine addicts. Do you think Phillip Morris is not doing this? Also, the money paid to states was NOT voluntary. It was due to lawsuits based on the fact that the tobacco companies deliberately suppressed information about the harm from tobacco.

    So, it is not clear cut about the consequentialism. But, your focus is not Phillip Morris, but a young person with a job offer from it.

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