Holy Smoke!

The Virgin Mary was a Marlboro woman–and other outrageous tactics Big Tobacco uses to sell cigarettes abroad.

Fight disinformation. Get a daily recap of the facts that matter. Sign up for the free Mother Jones newsletter.

Joe Camel, America’s favorite phallic dromedary, may be counting coffin nails in the advertising graveyard, but that doesn’t mean that Big Tobacco has quit using questionable tactics to lure new, and mostly young, smokers. While the United States government cracks down on Big Tobacco’s marketing tactics, tobacco companies have already begun to focus their considerable marketing know-how abroad, where restrictions are more relaxed, nicotine is just as addictive, and the U.S. government is happy to turn a blindeye.

Although they have been restrained from marketing directly to children in the United States (largely through industry self-regulation), U.S. companies aren’t required to follow U.S. regulations when they operate abroad. The result: Joe C. may have raised eyebrows in the United States, but he seems almost innocent in comparison with some of the tobacco industry’s marketing methods in other countries.

Marketing materials obtained by the MoJo Wire from INFACT and The Center for Communications, Health and the Environment show that tobacco companies have no qualms about pushing their cancerous product on the international youth market.

“How can we say that tobacco is not okay for our children and then say it is okay for children in other countries,” said Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on the need for global standards. No such standards or laws are in place. So, for the time being, the ads and marketing practices pictured below are not likely to cease.

Could I See Some ID Please Ma’am?
This photo, from Cambodia, shows young Cambodian girls handing out free cowboy killers. Responding to this photo and subsequent criticism of U.S. tobacco companies marketing to children abroad, Philip Morris CEO Geoffrey Bible testified at Congressional hearings last January that he “would control that as best I can.” Since that time, however, the tobacco industry giant has asked stockholders to vote against a shareholders resolution that would force the company to adopt its U.S. standards regarding marketing to teen-agers worldwide. (The proposal was rejected in April at the Philip Morris annual stockholders meeting.)
Hong Kong Phlegmy
The happy, bouncy Chinese youth that grace the cover of Marlboro’s “Red Hot Hits Summer Party” CD are definitely older than their counterparts in Cambodia, but still look young enough that any cashier jockey at the local 7-Eleven would beremiss not to take a hard look at their IDs. None of the kids on the cover appear to be over 25, despite the fact that the industry’s self-regulated Cigarette Advertising and Promotion Code states that “no one depicted in cigarette advertising shall be or appear to be under 25 years of age.” The CD, incidentally, was Hong Kong’s best seller in 1993.
Mary Rolled Her Own
Perhaps the most stunning tobacco ad comes from the Philippines’ Fortune Tobacco Corporation promotional calendar, featuring the Virgin Mary above packs of Camels, Mores, Winstons and several other brands. Fortune Tobacco is a licensee of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. Although the Blessed Mother of God could not be reached for comment, the MoJo Wire has it on authority that the Madonna never smoked any of these brands herself.

Hong Kong and Cambodian ads courtesy of INFACT, originally published in Global Aggression: The Case for World Standards and Bold US Action Challenging Philip Morris and RJR Nabisco. Philippines ad courtesy of The Center for Communications Health and the Environment.

Do you think U.S. companies should be required to follow U.S. laws when they are operating abroad? Discuss it.

We Recommend


Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.