Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


Tobacco firm pledges to tackle field worker sickness

May 2009

The cigarette company Philip Morris International is taking steps to counter a condition called green tobacco sickness, which affects workers in supplier tobacco fields.

The Switzerland-based multinational admits the condition, which is not life-threatening but can cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness and dehydration, has not previously been taken seriously enough. ‘This was an issue we missed,’ said Even Hurwitz, senior vice-president for corporate affairs. ‘We didn’t realize how serious it is.’

Philip Morris has been under pressure for a year from a low-key shareholder activist campaign on the issue. Eventually a resolution on the issue was submitted for the company’s annual meeting in the US this month by a Catholic priest at the Province of St Joseph of the Capuchin Order. However, the company has undertaken to tackle the problem and the resolution has been withdrawn.

First, Philip Morris will organize an education programme in the US for tobacco farmers aimed at reducing their risk of green tobacco sickness. It will then develop training materials for distribution to growers worldwide, and will require leaf suppliers to agree to take measures that will cut the risk to workers.
Green tobacco sickness typically hits field workers when nicotine on moist leaves seeps through their skin pores. The symptoms can last for two days and are thought to affect up to a quarter of tobacco workers at some time.

Philip Morris says the condition may have become more noticeable in recent times because the growth of larger farms has increased exposure levels.

 Philip Morris has joined forces with a snuff company to develop what it believes will be more responsible smoke-free tobacco products worldwide.

With Swedish Match it will market products such as snus, a moist powder tobacco that is placed under the lip for long periods.

Philip Morris claims there is evidence that snus are ‘significantly less harmful than cigarette smoking’ and believes they can play ‘a role... in tobacco harm reduction’.

However, anti-snus campaigners claim the product is highly addictive and its health effects are unclear. Snus are also illegal in many parts of the world.

Swedish Match | Global | Health and safety

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