Background: A key element of Philip Morris’s (PM’s) corporate social responsibility initiatives is “societal alignment”, defined as “strategies and programs to meet society’s expectations of a responsible tobacco company”. This study explored the genesis and implementation of Philip Morris' (PM) societal alignment efforts.
Methods: The study retrieved and analysed approximately 375 previously undisclosed PM documents now available electronically. Using an iterative process, the study categorised themes and prepared a case analysis.
Results: Beginning in 1999, PM sought to become “societally aligned” by identifying expectations of a responsible tobacco company through public opinion research and developing and publicising programs to meet those expectations. Societal alignment was undertaken within the US and globally to ensure an environment favourable to PM’s business objectives. Despite PM’s claims to be “changing”, however, societal alignment in practice was highly selective. PM responded to public “expectations” largely by retooling existing positions and programs, while entirely ignoring other expectations that might have interfered with its business goals. It also appears that convincing employees of the value and authenticity of societal alignment was difficult.
Conclusions: As implementation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control proceeds, tobacco control advocates should closely monitor development of such “alignment” initiatives and expose the motivations and contradictions they reveal.
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Competing interests: REM owns one share each of Altria/Philip Morris, Philip Morris International and Reynolds American stock for research and advocacy purposes. REM served as a tobacco industry documents consultant for the US Department of Justice in United States of America vs Philip Morris et al.
National Cancer Institute Fellowship Funding (to JSY) CA-113710-02; NCI Grant No. R01 CA120138 & US/UK Fulbright Distinguished Scholar Award (to REM).