In what on the surface could only be described as an acute case of masochistic dementia, Philip Morris USA owner Altria Group Inc. is now protesting the promotion of its own brand.
In a May 20th letter to Paramount Pictures, Philips Morris Senior Vice President Howard Willard III urged studios to “voluntarily refrain from portraying or referring to cigarette brands or brand imagery in movies.” [Paramount’s recent film, Twisted, uses the company’s Malboro cigarette as an innocuous prop.] In a similar move, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco recently castigated Sony Pictures for including Winston cigarettes in the film, Mona Lisa Smile. “You do not have permission to mention or depict our brand in your films,” warned an R.J. Reynolds lawyer.
But it’s not self-hatred that prompts tobacco companies to exhibit such suicidal tendencies: it’s the government.
Fearful of legal action, tobacco companies now seem obsessed with publicly torturing themselves in every conceivable way in order to placate snarling bureaucrats like California deputy attorney general Michelle Fogliani.
“It isn’t enough for a tobacco company to say, ‘We had nothing to do with our brand of cigarettes being in that movie,'” comrade Fogliani threatens.
As bad as smoking may be for one’s health, the second-hand effects of the politically vogue anti-tobacco posse are decidedly worse. Officials like Fogliani scurry to extinguish the smoldering remnants of American tobacco companies only by fanning the flame of a more devastating fire: the burning of the First Amendment.
This Orwellian landscape has forced notoriously anti-business (and anti-tobacco) Hollywood types into the curious position of defending the right to advertise cigarettes. “Movie producers properly respond, ‘We have a First Amendment right to show these products,'” explains New York law firm Debevoise & Plimpton partner David H. Bernstein.
And indeed they do…for now. But moviemakers beware: sue-mongering bureaucrats may not be polite enough to grant you that famous “last cigarette” before they move in for the kill.