Home Original News Philip Morris colludes with CIGNA to withhold smoking hazard information
Philip Morris colludes with CIGNA to withhold smoking hazard information PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Roman Bystrianyk   
Monday, 30 August 2004 00:00

An article in the August 2004 issue of the American Journal of Public Health details a review of internal tobacco company documents that showed the company Philip Morris and the insurance company CIGNA collaborated to censor accurate information on the harm of smoking from the CIGNA health newsletter sent to employees of Philip Morris and its affiliates.

As a major cause of numerous cancers and cardiovascular disease, smoking kills more than 400,000 Americans each year. Exposure to environmental tobacco is estimated to cause 3,700 cancer deaths and more than 50,000 deaths from heart disease in adults each year in the United States. Environmental tobacco smoke is also been associated with low birthweight babies, sudden infant death among infants with acute lower respiratory infections, asthma attacks, and middle ear infections among children.

The documents reviewed revealed that between 1996 and 1998 CIGNA and Philip Morris worked together to censor information on smoking and health that was to be published in CIGNA’s quarterly Well-Being newsletter. Information that set cigarette smoking in a bad light was labeled as possibly “offensive and annoying”. The agreement between the two companies was to either replace the “offensive” material or simply not distribute the newsletter.

For example, the 1996 issue of Well-Being was not released because the company did not want to pay $3000 to replace an article titled, “A Breath of Fresh Air”, which contained “objectionable content”. The objectionable content was in relation that one of the possible irritant that could trigger an asthma attack was cigarette smoke.

Other censored material included deleting references to smoking in articles “Help Yourself to a Healthy Life” and “Coping With Your Child’s Ear Infection.”

The author’s of the article reported that, “Philip Morris colluded with CIGNA over a period of at least 3 years to withhold accurate information about the health hazards of smoking and environmental tobacco smoke exposure from its employees … It may surprise few people in the public health community that a transnational company took steps to suppress information on the health consequences of smoking and environmental tobacco smoke exposure, but most would be surprised that a health care organization would cooperate in such an arrangement.”

The author’s also noted that, “CIGNA is an investor-owned health plan that does not have the same statutory obligations to act in the public interest as a not-for-profit plan. In fact, CIGNA profits when Philip Morris profits. According to published reports, the insurer owned at least $57 million in Philip Morris stock in 1995 and $38.6 million in 1999. Some studies have shown that for-profit hospitals, health plans, nursing homes, and dialysis facilities provide lower quality care than not-for-profit plans. CIGNA’s actions in this case may provide an example of how a profit-seeking business culture might respond to profits rather than quality of care.”

“The irony of the agreement between Philip Morris and CIGNA is that it was called of by the tobacco company, not by the health insurer. While this arrangement no long exists, the potential for similar arrangements involving other industries is a matter of concern. Have paint manufacturers ask for censorship on the hazards of lead paint? Have gun makers asked their employees not read about statistics on gun-related violence?”


Source: American Journal of Public Health, August 2004, Vol. 94, No. 8, pp. 1307-1310
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