According the the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking is the leading cause of preventable death. Every year, 480,000 people die in the US from cigarette smoking and about 42,000 people die from second hand smoke exposure. If you consider that on a macro level, one in every five deaths in the United States is caused by smoking.
Normal lungs (left). Effects of smoking on lungs (right). Source: quit2smoke.com
Every year, Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris USA and largest manufacturer of tobacco products in the United States, donates thousands of dollars to the Smeal College of Business, my college at Penn State University. In return, Altria is given the title of “Corporate Partner” and receives year-long promotion, branding around the college, communication with students and organizations, is featured as company of the month in the Business Building Atrium, and even strategy consultation from faculty among others.
In the business college, we pride ourselves on our honor code:
We, the Smeal College of Business community, aspire to the highest ethical standards and will hold each other accountable to them. We will not engage in any action that is improper or that creates the appearance of impropriety in our academic lives, and we intend to hold to this standard in our future careers.
We hold every student accountable to this honor code, but unfortunately we aren’t able to keep our Corporate Partners accountable. Altria fundamentally creates a product that massacres people ever year, yet we continue to take their blood money. Some would call this a double standard. It took until sophomore year to learn what Altria really does and it took finally taking B A 342, a mandatory class on socially responsible, sustainable, and ethical business practices, in junior year to take a stand. I’ve chosen to hold my college accountable.
I’ve started a petition called Stand Up to Altria that requests the Dean Charles Whiteman, dean of the Smeal College of Business not allow Altria to renew their corporate partnership and reject any type of donations from them because it has been scientifically proven that smoking causes lung cancer, coronary heart disease, stroke, and much worse (viewer discretion is advised). It allows Altria to continue to recruit from the business college, but it denies any type of elevated branding and support from the college. At the end of the day, I would like my fellow classmates to make that ethical decision on their part if they want to intern or work for a company like Altria.
I know this an uphill battle, but I think its one worth waging. At the end of the day, I don’t believe we should stand by a company such as Altria. Opposition is inevitable and I’ve heard the arguments for not severing ties. Some argue that because there is a demand for the product and we are a business college, there is no problem allowing them to be a partner. Others will say that this is a slippery slope and where do you draw the line regarding which companies to allow and which ones to ban. Do you ban banks because of what they did in the financial crisis? Do you ban defense contractors because they create weapons? To which I think it’s important to realize that cigarettes have no safe use. Banks, while complicit in the financial crisis, have a safe use. Defense contractors, while they do create weapons, can be used safely and are essential to national defense. Altria’s products cannot be used safely and they even include chemicals and additives to make you addicted to their cigarettes. This is not a slippery slope.
We are not alone in this fight against big tobacco. Other schools have taken a stand. Some notable ones who have rejected Altria’s money include the University of Texas, Harvard University, Emory University, and Johns Hopkins University. I want Penn State to join them. If you want to join me and the hundreds of Smeal students who have already signed, please sign my petition and let Dean Whiteman know that you care about where your school’s money comes from. You care about not having a double standard. You care about the thousands of people Altria kills every year. The petition can be found at StandUpToAltria.com.
Lastly, consider this an open letter to your fellow classmates.This is a battle that requires a group effort and I know deep down that many of you share the same beliefs. If you agree with what I’ve said and you signed the petition, please share this post on Facebook or Twitter, show your friends and classmates, and even tell your professors. If you have any questions or even hesitations about signing, please email me at patrick [dot] cines [at] gmail [dot] com.
Update April 8, 2016: I gave a TED talk about my Petition! Check it out here.