Altria’s marketing campaign carries the tagline “Moving Beyond Smoking.” A look at its earnings shows that is not the case at all. The company needs to sell tens of millions of cigarettes a year to continue to be a company at all.
Altria’s case that it will change the dangers and use of tobacco products has two foundations. The first is that it can “reduce the harm of tobacco use.” That hints at a future when tobacco use is less than very dangerous to health. The other is that it can prevent underage use of tobacco.
Unfortunately, media like Politico take sponsored messages from Altria that try to make the case that “As the nation’s largest tobacco company, we must play an active role in preventing underage use of tobacco products.” All that means, if it works, is that millions of Americans will start to smoke when they are old enough. That does not reduce the harm of tobacco products either.
It is also telling that this message comes from Jennifer Hunter, Senior Vice President, Corporate Citizenship and Chief Sustainability Officer for Altria Client Services, and not anyone in senior management.
A look at Altria’s earnings statement confirms how stunningly large its tobacco business is. A comment from CEO Billy Gifford cements the extent to which this is the company’s future:
We are off to a strong start to the year and believe our businesses are on track to deliver against their full-year plans. Our tobacco businesses performed well in a challenging macroeconomic environment and we continued to make progress toward our Vision to responsibly lead the transition of adult smokers to a smoke-free future.
Its plans for a smoke-free future are clearly subordinate to the sale of tobacco.
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