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Mongolia: Marlboro man shoots himself in the foot

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What can Philip Morris (PM) be thinking of? Earlier this year, the corporate affairs executive of its Mongolian subsidiary walked into the office of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), the only international non-governmental organisation working on tobacco and disease projects in Mongolia, and invited them to a meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in June. It was for “members of parliament and selected officials from relevant ministries and government agencies”, he said, and was mainly intended to discuss tobacco, import taxes, and cigarette smuggling issues. It later emerged that PM was expecting 50 to 60 government officials and politicians to show up, and its invitation letters stated that the Mongolian parliament was one of the organisers.

In the event, a mere dozen or so were present to see the PM team labouring through a lengthy presentation, which turned out to be a translation of the company's position paper on the Framework Convention. At the end, the only senior government official present, Dr Sodnompil, state secretary at the Ministry of Health, stood up and gave it to the cowboy folks in no uncertain terms. Mongolia, he said, strongly supported the Framework Convention. End of story, except that he added a strongly critical comment or two about efforts by tobacco companies to weaken the country's tobacco control legislation. Appropriately, he then left the meeting. An ADRA representative made a similar, short and unequivocal comment, then also left the meeting.

Three days later, the press office of the State Ikh Khural (the Mongolian parliament) took the unusual step of issuing a stinging press release protesting about the Philip Morris Company and its Mongolian office. PM had illegally used the Mongolian parliament's name, it said, while conducting publicity for its tobacco products. It had stated in its invitation to the meeting that the Mongolian parliament was one of the organisers of the event. “However, they did not receive official permission from the Mongolian parliament to do this. One of the ways that this company, which has lost customers in countries that have strong laws against tobacco, has tried to hook children, young people, and women on smoking is by violating the laws and regulations of the independent country of Mongolia by using the name of its supreme law making organ, the Mongolian parliament. The Philip Morris Company must bear the responsibility for the negative consequences incurred by using the name of the parliament”. If only . . .

It is good when a sheriff supports the good guys in any cowboy story; even better when he upholds the law vigorously and fires shots in the air to warn the bandits; and best of all when he knocks the bad guys reeling, with dirt on their face.