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Philip Morris Memos Detail Teen Habits

By John Schwartz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 30, 1998; Page A15

Philip Morris, the nation's largest tobacco company, monitored the smoking habits of people as young as 12 because "today's teenager is tomorrow's potential regular customer," according to internal documents released yesterday.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) presented the four memos in a House Commerce Committee hearing on pending tobacco legislation, which could protect companies from some lawsuits in exchange for paying billions of dollars to reduce youth smoking.

The memos were cited Monday in opening statements of the lawsuit against the tobacco industry brought by the state of Minnesota and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota to recover the costs of treating sick smokers. But the full memos were not made available then. Two of the documents were previously reported in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The documents echo a large number of internal R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. papers that Waxman made public several weeks ago that showed company officials recommended marketing efforts directed at teenagers dating back to the 1970s. Philip Morris's share of the underage market has long dwarfed RJR's despite the smaller company's advances with young smokers after it introduced the "Joe Camel" campaign.

Tobacco companies have long denied they target underage smokers.

Highlights of the documents:

A March 1981 memo to Robert B. Seligman, the company's vice president for research and development, described habits of smokers 12 to 18 years old and warned that smoking rates were on the decline since 1976-77, which meant the company would "no longer be able to rely on a rapidly increasing pool of teenagers from which to replace smokers lost through normal attrition." The decline in smoking among teenagers, wrote Myron Johnston of Philip Morris, was especially troubling: "Because we have our highest share index among the youngest smokers, we will suffer more than the other companies."

A memo dated February 1983 noted an "encouraging upward trend" in youth smoking rates, citing figures from the graduating class of 1982.

A May 1975 memo from Johnston to Seligman attributed the Marlboro brand's "phenomenal growth" to "our high market penetration among younger smokers," described as "15-19-year-olds." Johnston wrote that publicly available studies were generally limited to teenagers 18 and older but "my own data, which includes younger teenagers, shows even higher Marlboro market penetration among 15-17-year-olds."

In a March 17, 1988, memo, Johnston discusses teenage spending. High school seniors from 1976 and 1979 had smoked roughly the same amount before the age of 16, he said, but the class of 1979 group, which had experienced a sharp hike in gasoline prices, smoked substantially less than 1976 seniors.

Michael York, an attorney who speaks for Philip Morris, said the documents were never used for marketing purposes. "What's conspicuously absent is 'We've got to do something about this by putting appeals to young people in these ads,' " York said.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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