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For the first time, nurses from across the USA attended the annual shareholders meeting of Philip Morris in April, in East Hanover, New Jersey, to call on the company to voluntarily end active promotion of cigarettes. Afterwards, members of the Nightingales, a nurses’ advocacy group called after the famous 19th century reforming British nurse Florence Nightingale, held a reading and shared a display of letters from previously secret tobacco industry documents, sent to the company by its dying customers and their families and never before exposed.
The nurses were first to speak during the public comment period, asking Louis Camilleri, chief executive of Altria (the new name for Philip Morris), whether a company ethics committee actually read the letters from suffering customers and their families, and what ethical criteria were used in deciding whether to promote deadly tobacco products. Unsurprisingly, Camilleri failed to provide an answer, later repeating the industry mantra about smoking being a choice consumers made with knowledge of the risks involved. Ab Brody, a nurse from San Francisco, speaking to one of the shareholder resolutions, said, “Nobody ever ‘chooses’ to suffocate and die in pain and terror. That wasn’t a choice they made. No; they chose the tobacco industry’s image of cool, fun, glamour. And that’s a big, fat lie.”
Then, at the request of Sharon Brown, a nurse from Arizona, shareholders observed 30 seconds of silence in honour of her own father, who would have been celebrating his 74th birthday that day, except that he died from lung cancer from Philip Morris’s products. “I’m here to honour him,” she said, “and to try to keep this company from taking away somebody else’s Dad.”
“We’re here to say that this can’t go on,” said Nightingale’s organiser Ruth Malone, associate professor of nursing at the University of California, San Francisco, who first found the letters while doing research on the previously secret tobacco industry documents. “The tobacco industry spends more than $1 million an hour on making their deadly, addictive products look fun, cool, and glamorous–but these letters show the terrifying, painful reality of what cigarettes actually do.”