John Oliver lit up Philip Morris International during last Sunday’s Last Week Tonight episode on HBO, skewering the tobacco company’s attempts to lessen the stringent regulations that countries like Australia and Togo have on cigarettes by threatening to retaliate with lawsuits. A statement issued by Philip Morris International mentioned “that the tobacco industry is an easy target for comedians,” while adding that the company takes “seriously the responsibility that comes with selling a product that is an adult choice and is harmful to health.”
John Oliver is definitely a comedian, often a quite humorous one; but, he also is a reporter, wanting to get the truth to the public. As such, he is much like Jon Stewart with The Daily Show, where John Oliver got his big break in the United States as a “correspondent,” as did Stephen Colbert.
It is Oliver’s contention that the lawsuits Philip Morris International are threatening, like the one in Australia to allow brand logos and the Marlboro Man to appear of boxes of their cigarettes, are really designed to inhibit Australia from enforcing other laws, like ones that require health warnings and images of diseased body parts on cigarette boxes.
Philip Morris International, on the other hand, has the viewpoint that the value of the brands the company produces will be hurt if cigarette boxes are not allowed to have the brand’s trademark on them, or characters that represent the company, like the Marlboro Man. It could be argued that the company should possibly not want the Marlboro Man to represent it any longer, as four of them have died of diseases related to smoking.
Ever resourceful, the intrepid John Oliver suggested that Philip Morris International could replace the Marlboro Man, and he came up with an alternative that he felt would best represent the company while also conforming to the laws of Australia. His idea was to have the company’s new representative be called “Jeff the Diseased Lung in a Cowboy Hat.” The character would be, as the name states, a giant diseased lung complete with a cowboy hat and boots. Sound effects could be added, like “Yippee ki- yays,” along with hacking and coughing thrown in now and then, for good measure.
John Oliver was joined onstage during the show by someone dressed up like “Jeff the Diseased Lung in a Cowboy Hat.” He started the hashtag #JeffWeCan, and it quickly became a trending topic worldwide. The host even mentioned that “we made Jeff t-shirts which were shipped to Togo,” and he showed video from Montevideo, Uruguay, of real Jeff billboards that people have installed.
On Sunday’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Oliver devoted about 18 minutes of the episode to his comments about the tobacco industry in general, and Philip Morris International, specifically. As the tobacco company stated in response to the remarks by John Oliver, his HBO show “is a parody show.”
According to the company’s press release, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver‘s segment about Philip Morris International “includes many mischaracterizations of our company, including our approach to marketing and regulation.” Also, as the company’s press release notes, it supports and complies “with thousands of regulations worldwide.” The statement includes the request “that laws protecting investments, including trademarks, be equally applied to us.”
In his segment in which he made some scathing comments about the tobacco industry and Philip Morris International, John Oliver praised the plain packaging laws that Australia has in place in an attempt to better regulate the sale of tobacco products there. As the show’s host noted, the packaging of cigarettes in drab brown packages with images of diseased body parts like lungs on them has resulted in the “total consumption of tobacco and cigarettes in Australia” falling “to record lows.”
John Oliver referred to the lawsuits that countries like Australia are being subjected to as being a type of “legal hell.” So far, the lawsuits that have been instituted have failed to defeat Australia’s laws on plain packaging.
However, now Philip Morris Asia is attempting to fight the case using a different angle. Supposedly, the use of plain packaging and the medical images violates an international trade agreement between Hong Kong and Australia.
Among the many practices that tobacco companies such as Philip Morris International engages in that John Oliver criticized was that children in Indonesia are legally permitted to buy and smoke cigarettes. There, children account for a percentage of Philip Morris International’s customers.
With last Sunday’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver‘s segment about Philip Morris International, Oliver lit up Philip Morris with his lambaste and criticisms of the company’s practices. Oliver might have been playing with fire when he took on a mega-corporation like Philip Morris International, but by doing so, he also might have helped save scores of lives around the world.
Written By Douglas Cobb