Why Big Tobacco Wants to Be Friendly Tobacco

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If you're worried about getting beaten, join 'em. That seems to be the tactic of tobacco giant Philip Morris, which, after years of successfully fending off government regulation, appears to have seen too many unwelcome smoke signals coming out of Washington. Although most analysts and industry officials were hedging their bets on regulation until the Supreme Court completed its review of the FDA's right to regulate tobacco as a drug, Philip Morris senior vice president Steven Parrish announced Tuesday that the company is willing to negotiate. Parrish told the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal that no matter what the Justices decide, the makers of Marlboro want to sit down and discuss ways to satisfy federal requirements for cigarette labels and health warnings.

In other words, rather than unnecessarily angering regulators into potentially more draconian measures, the industry's leading player believes it is best to strike a deal. It's a move that shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, says TIME senior reporter Alain Sanders. "It's common practice for regulated industries to develop a very cozy relationship with their regulators." With this in mind, says Sanders, Philip Morris may have conceded internally that the anti-tobacco movement is not going away, and decided to take the long view. "It's better, after all, to be regulated by friendly folks than to be outlawed or split up by a hostile government," says Sanders. Or demonized by a rancorous public: While Philip Morris has invested millions in feel-good ads promoting its self-policing programs — such as carding minors who try to by cigarettes — it's clear that widespread distrust of the tobacco industry is here to stay.