[Virginia GASP] 2004 Philip Morris -- Altria Group, Inc. Annual Shareholders' Meeting

NEWS MEDIA -- EXCERPTS from Articles

EXCERPT from Media Release, Nightingales: Nurses In Groups Highlighting Tobacco Industry Nastiness, Greed And Lies (to) End Suffering

Newswire/ -- Nurses from across America will attend the annual shareholders meeting of Philip Morris (now under the parentage of Altria) today in East Hanover, N.J., to call on the company to voluntarily end active promotion of cigarettes.  This will be the first time in the history of Philip Morris that nurses have attended the meeting.  Following the meeting, the nurses will hold a reading and share a display of letters from the secret tobacco industry documents, sent to the company by its dying customers and their families and never before exposed.

"We're here to say that this can't go on," said NIGHTINGALES organizer Ruth Malone, RN, associate professor of nursing at the University of California, San Francisco School of Nursing.  "The tobacco industry spends more than $1 million an hour, 24/7, on making their deadly, addictive products look fun, cool, and glamorous -- but these letters show the terrifying, painful reality of what cigarettes do."

As the largest group of health care providers, the nation's 2.5 million nurses are in a unique position at the bedside and in the community to witness first hand the deadly effects of tobacco products.  "A socially responsible company would not continue to promote a product that they themselves admit addicts and kills," said Diana Hackbarth, RN, professor of nursing at Loyola University in Chicago and a Fellow in the American Academy of Nursing.

Nurses are attending the shareholders meeting as a group to tell their patients' stories, giving voice to those who can no longer speak because tobacco addiction has robbed them of breath and life.  "Tobacco products cause devastation to so many families," noted Lee S. Clay, RN, CNM, a nurse midwife from New Jersey who is attending to call attention to the tobacco industry's aggressive marketing to young women of childbearing age.  Wearing black armbands to honor the memories of their patients who have suffered and died from cigarette caused disease, nurses will call on Philip Morris to show genuine corporate social responsibility by voluntarily ending the active promotion and marketing of tobacco products.  Press Conference starting about 12 noon near company entrance at 188 Rover Road.

EXCERPT from New Jersey's Star Ledger, April 30, 2004, headlined, Protesters heat up Altria meeting, writer, Beth Fitzgerald.

If Altria Group held its first annual meeting in New Jersey to deflect any controversy, it didn't work.

Yesterday's meeting attracted well over 100 protesters, including Darya Semyomova, 16, who said she traveled from Ukraine to demonstrate against the parent of tobacco giant Philip Morris in East Hanover. The shareholders meeting was held at the company's Kraft food division offices.

"I came here to show it's not only U.S. teenagers who care what tobacco companies do," she said. "Tobacco companies are finding new markets in countries like mine."

During the meeting, Altria Chairman Louis Camilleri told stockholders Ukraine ranks among the top 10 markets for Philip Morris International, which commands a 14.5 percent share of the global cigarette market.

But amid a barrage of questions and criticisms from dozens of anti-smoking activities, Camilleri insisted the company does not target tobacco to teens and markets its products in a responsible fashion to adults.

"Making, selling and marketing cigarettes and being a responsible company are compatible goals," he said. "I agree with the evidence that smoking is addictive but that doesn't mean people can't quit. Millions have quit, and we continue to guide people to smoking cessation programs while also trying to come up with products that have less risk."

Altria provided shareholders with a separate smoking room where they could light up while watching the annual meeting on television.

Anti-smoking activists placed five anti-smoking resolutions on the agenda yesterday, and all were defeated. The police department did not have an estimate for the crowd.

EXCERPTS from the Associated Press, April 30, 2004, in several papers, including The Canadian Press, writer, Linda Johnson.

Dozens of young people from anti-tobacco groups around the world protested outside the annual meeting of Altria Group Inc. Thursday, urging the cigarette maker to stop advertising campaigns they allege target teens.

Meanwhile, a couple dozen older tobacco opponents inside the meeting criticized the marketing practices of Altria, formerly known as Philip Morris. Those opponents, allowed into the meeting because they are Altria stockholders, urged the company to be more truthful about the harmful effects of smoking.

"We want to expose the lies of the tobacco companies, the lies that tobacco is not addictive and that tobacco is not harmful to the American public," said Eileen Fitzmaurice, 35, of Woodbridge. She was among several protesters from a New Jersey health department-sponsored organization called Reaching Everyone By Exposing Lies, or REBEL.

Five shareholder proposals, including ones calling for more graphic, stronger warnings on cigarette packs and efforts to warn pregnant women of smoking's dangers to a fetus, were defeated by at least 90 percent of votes cast, according to preliminary totals.

The other proposals called for ending promotions of light brands as safer, for reporting publicly on health risks of carcinogen-laced cigarette filters, and for prompt and detailed disclosure of New York-based Altria's political contributions.

Altria division Philip Morris USA, based in Richmond, Va., dominates the tobacco market worldwide, with about 20 brands including Marlboro and Parliament.

Some protesters outside the meeting were dressed in red-and-white cigarette packs bearing the words, "Licensed to Kill," instead of the Marlboro logo.

"Tobacco's whacked! Take it back," chanted the protesters, mainly teens and people in their 20s.

The protesters came from several U.S. states, including Hawaii, and from foreign countries including Thailand, Ukraine and Senegal. They maintain the cigarette maker is marketing to teens to replace older smokers, a charge the company has denied.

EXCERPTS from The Daily Record, April 30, 2004, headlined, Altria CEO Says Smokers Have A Choice, writer, Tim O'Reiley.

Years of often-heated protests against Altria Group's giant tobacco business, rekindled at its annual meeting on Thursday, have barely registered with shareholders.

None of the four resolutions tied to the health risks of smoking received more than 5 percent of their votes, while another concerning political contributions received only 7.1 percent..

While executives admit that there are addictive and cancer-causing ingredients in cigarettes, they show no inclination to back away from the business.

In response to shareholder Anne Morrow Daley [sic.  Donley], who came from Virginia to demand an apology for the high death rates among smokers, chairman and chief executive Louis Camilleri said, "Society has to make a choice.  You clearly don't like this, but people clearly like to smoke and continue to like to smoke."

Sharon Pratt Brown used part of her time at the microphone during the question period to observe a moment of silence on the birthday of her late father, who died 18 years ago at age 60 from lung cancer.

"My father was never informed of the very addictive nature of our products," she said.

Camilleri said,  "I agree with the overwhelming scientific evidence that smoking is addictive.  But that doesn't mean people can't quit."

Still, subtle shifts have occurred within the company.  Besides switching its name to Altria from Philip Morris Cos. early last year, a pre-meeting video was dominated by products of Kraft Foods even though cigarette brands, such as Marlboro, Parliament and L&M, account for three-fourths of the company's annual revenues.  Altria owns 84.5 percent of Kraft.

When Philip Morris formally announced its purchase of Nabisco Holdings four years ago, several executives puffed away at the rostrum.

On Thursday, smokers had to watch the annual meeting in a special tent outside because the Kraft building is smoke-free.

And after decades of holding its annual meeting at its sprawling cigarette plant adjacent to Route 95 in Richmond, VA, Altria switched to the more secluded Kraft campus, surrounded by a broad lawn, in East Hanover.

Still, security was extraordinarily tight for a shareholders meeting.

Passes were required to get past the guard tower, checkpoints were set up along the winding road to the Robert M. Schaeberle Technology Center, and there were metal detectors, X-ray machines and strict limits on what people could take into a meeting room.

"This was definitely much lower-key than in past years," said Kathryn Mulvey, executive director of the Boston-based corporate activist group Infact.

Typically, about 2,000 shareholders, many of them retirees, attended the meetings in Richmond.  About 200 were there on Thursday.

More typical among the speakers was Abraham Brody, one of several registered nurses who came to the meeting wearing white smocks and black armbands.  "How can a socially responsible company sell products so excruciatingly deadly with ordinary use?"

"I know you will never agree (with us), so let us agree to disagree," [Louis Camilleri] he told Brody.

EXCERPTS also from The Daily Record, April 30, 2004, headlined, Altria protesters are fuming mad, 200 demonstrate at shareholders meeting, writer, Minauti Dave.
Ashley Hu is worried that cigarette makers are targeting her little brother.

"My grandfather died of lung cancer and he smoked for 40 years," said the 17-year-old Hu, of San Francisco.

"My father is also a smoker.  I also have a younger brother and I feel like he's being targeted."

Hu was among the roughly 200 anti-tobacco protesters on River Road on Thursday in front of the headquarters of Kraft Foods, where Altria was holding its annual meeting.

However, Hu said, Philip Morris and other tobacco companies have increased their presence globally.  Hu immigrated to the United States from Shanghai, China about seven years ago.  She said tobacco companies have been advertising cigarettes through magazines and billboards all over China.

"What really makes me mad is in (Altria's) 2003 annual report, they said their No. 1 target is China," Hu said.

Tobacco companies target developing nations such as China because they are under-resourced and have government regulations that are easily bypassed, Hu said.

Among the protesters were two teenagers from the Youth to Youth anti-tobacco group based in Dover, N.H. who wore red and white cigarette boxes with a warning on the side of the box: "Surgeon General: This product kills over one in three users and causes many serious illnesses."

"Tobacco and drugs are getting really bad, and as a group we have to stand up and say we don't want it and we won't take it," said 14-year-old Drew Willis, who was wearing a cigarette box costume.

Many of the protesters were from Reality Check, a group based in New York. Shawn Carney, 18, of Phelps, N.Y., said his organization is not anti-smoking but is anti-tobacco companies.

"Our message is to stop big tobacco companies' manipulation against teens," Carney said.

The Reality Check demonstrators included people from foreign countries who oppose tobacco companies' advertising to youths in their countries.

"In the Ukraine, there is no ban on (tobacco) advertising," said 16-year-old Darya Semyonova, who flew in to take part in the protest in hopes that she can use the experience for protests in Ukraine. "Cigarettes are distributed mostly to teenagers," she added.

Another group that attended the protest was the NIGHTINGALES: Nurses in Groups Highlighting Tobacco Industry, Nastiness, Greed and Lies to End Suffering.

Nurse Heather Horgan of San Francisco said that just last weekend she witnessed a person die of lung disease and cared for two more people who are dying of lung cancer.

"We're here bearing witnesses to the suffering that tobacco causes to our patients," Horgan said.

EXCERPTS from Reuters, April 30, 2004, writer, Jessica Wohl.

Altria Chairman and Chief Executive Louis Camilleri also stressed that the company, whose Philip Morris units make Marlboro and other cigarettes, believes it can market such products and be responsible at the same time.

However, demonstrators including several nurses protested against the company's stance at the meeting.

"I'm not saying we're perfect" but we have made progress on issues such as regulation of tobacco products, Camilleri told hundreds of shareholders gathered at a Kraft Foods facility in East Hanover, New Jersey.

When Abraham Brody, a nurse at the University of California at San Francisco, suggested that a company could not be responsible and at the same time sell cigarettes, Camilleri was frank in his response.

"Let's agree to disagree," he told Brody, who, like other nurses in the crowd, addressed Camilleri while wearing a white nurse's jacket.

Altria earlier moved its annual meeting to the Kraft facility from a Philip Morris cigarette plant, a switch activists said shows the company is shying away from its tobacco heritage.

[Virginia GASP] Added May 4, 2004