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Philip Morris to Stop Handing Out, Mailing Free Cigarettes

By Harry Berkowitz and Dwight R. Worley

Philip Morris announced Tuesday it is launching a program to make it harder for kids to get cigarettes. As part of the effort, it will stop handing out or mailing free samples of Marlboro and other brands.

"The best way to keep kids away from cigarettes is to keep cigarettes away from kids," said James J. Morgan, president of Philip Morris USA, the biggest manufacturer of cigarettes in the United States. "In too many places in America, minors can still buy cigarettes."

Anti-smoking activists welcomed the actions but said the company is trying to slow the tide and reduce the severity of restrictions imposed on cigarette smoking, marketing and sales by states and municipalities and by federal agencies. The activists said the company is also trying to take credit for steps that it already has been forced to take in much of the country.

"This is a public relations ploy on their part," said Scott Ballin, chairman of the Coalition on Smoking Or Health in Washington, D.C.

Joe Tye, founder of Stop Teenage Addiction to Tobacco said: "They are trying to give themselves more ammunition to go into state capitols and say they are really trying, so they have a little more of the moral high ground."

Morgan, at a news conference at company headquarters in Manhattan, said Philip Morris has handed out free samples to between 15 million and 20 million consumers a year and mailed 4 million to 5 million packs of cigarettes a year.

The company said it will put the notice "Underage Sale Prohibited" on all packs and cartons by early fall, cut off promotional incentives to retailers who are fined for or convicted of selling cigarettes to minors and distribute "Ask First/It's the Law" signs to retailers.

The company said it will also support "reasonable" state legislation to require retailers who sell cigarettes to be licensed, prevent purchase of cigarettes by minors from vending machines and ensure that vending machines are visible to or under control of sales clerks.