Big Tobacco Masters Newspeak

Philip Morris is the public face of American tobacco. It's by far the biggest cigarette producer, and it has also produced much of the cultural iconography of smoking, from the "paging Philip Morris" campaign in the early days of television to the eternally macho Marlboro Man. Now, in the wake of recent legal setbacks, Big Tobacco is picking up the pieces and moving on, and Philip Morris (now using the alias "Altria Group") is still out front. This was made clear last November when a Sunday edition of The Washington Post carried a 22-page, magazine-sized advertising insert (on thick, glossy paper) from your friends at Philip Morris U.S.A.

The package was a masterful work of "newspeak"—the language George Orwell invented in his dystopian novel 1984. Newspeak was used to control people's thoughts by redefining the words they used, so that "war" became "peace." Orwell's thought police also rewrote history so that whenever political alliances shifted, history books and newspaper archives were rewritten to prove that the new reality had always been the case. "We are at war with Eurasia. We have always been at war with Eurasia." Actually, on the Internet, this manipulation of the historical record would be much easier, and the Philip Morris ad booklet was mostly devoted to touting the contents of the company's new Web site.

Here are some Orwellian highlights from the site: Philip Morris U.S.A. endorses the findings of every surgeon general's report on the dangers of smoking all the way back to 1964. Smoking causes cancer. Smoking is addictive. There are no safe cigarettes. Second-hand smoke causes diseases in non-smoking adults and children. Big Tobacco has always stood shoulder to shoulder with the public health community in the battle against smoking. War is peace. And, oh, by the way, love is hate.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 2003
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