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Bad news from the Philippines: Philip Morris (PM) is still running art awards, equating life-enhancing visual art and the aspirations of young artists with the manufacture and promotion of products that enhance only the wealth of PM and those involved in the terminal care and funeral industries. In the past, it sponsored the ASEAN Art Awards, covering the whole South East Asian region, a huge jamboree with events at both country and international level. It thus achieved massive feel-good publicity, portraying it as a social responsible company and giving the illusion that its eye was on higher things than the bottom line. Needless to add, the awards also bought high-octane schmoozing opportunities with government ministers and other decision makers.
Having been resoundingly seen off after repeated and determined protests by health advocates, latterly organised on a truly international basis (see Thailand: protest at PM art awards.
) , the ASEAN regional awards were quietly dropped. It seemed reasonable to assume that PM would grasp that the inappropriate association of addictive, life-destructive products with the creative arts was best forgotten. But PM does not think that way, especially in a country whose government has never been among the more vigilant proponents of tobacco control. Furthermore, where a cigarette called Philip Morris is for sale, as in the Philippines, any positive promotion of the company name also directly promotes sales of the brand.
So it was that in March, PM launched a larger and more exciting 2007 Philip Morris Philippine Art Awards (PAA) competition, complete with its own website (http://philippineartawards.org) and a limited edition coffee-table book called, in case anyone missed the point of the exercise, Philip Morris Philippine Art Awards: A Decade of Inspired Creativity.
By good fortune, a local tobacco control advocate was able to attend the big event, pick up PM’s press kit, including a CD version of the book, and most importantly, distribute some information explaining what it was really all about to the assembled audience before slipping away without being challenged.
Fortunately, the event received little publicity, especially considering the amount of time and effort PM had clearly put into it. But who knows what lobbying victories were scored, and how they may translate, no doubt along with other, less public efforts, into less effective tobacco control measures in the Philippines? Such events are certain to increase in number and degree of sophistication as governments go through the motions of implementing the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. It is in the monitoring and exposure of such activities, often of seemingly innocent and worthy intent to the uninitiated, that public health workers will have their work cut out until tobacco companies are universally recognised as well and truly persona non grata.