When Big Tobacco Comes Calling…

“What I was doing last year was I was smoking loads of cigars and it was messing my chest up and my voice was getting bad. Plus I’ve suddenly developed allergies and asthma.”

Ozzy Osborne, NY Times 1/7/98

A field full of tobacco plants...

The last thing I expect to happen, amongst a couple of other things, on a Sunday morning is to be polled for a health questionnaire – over the phone – for none other than Big Tobacco itself: Philip Morris. Not that I was told what Philip Morris specifically did, by the woman who phoned my number. It’s not like the company’s name gets mentioned much over here these days, though it may do whilst the current government considers plans to make cigarettes and related tobacco products even less attractive to the masses.

Regardless I quickly Googled the name Philip Morris (I was sat beside my laptop), as it sounded familiar for all the wrong reasons. I soon knew why.

I’m pretty sure it was the tobacco giant Philip Morris, as opposed to any other business. They’re the only ones with that name who would be concerned with whether or not you’re a smoker (I don’t smoke and never have), age, gender and then a whole host of health questions about how your health has been over the last year. Plus a couple of socio-economic questions sprinkled on top.

I expect to be rung for random surveys on my opinion on various things, but to answer non-identifying health questions for one of the world’s largest tobacco firms… it felt a little weird. I went through with the fifteen minute survey and was left wondering: “Just what on Earth do they plan to do with all this data? What do they need it for?”

I speculate that the data (and this is pure speculation) may be their attempt to show that the health of non-smokers is the same as smokers or worse. After all they wouldn’t want to show that non-smokers are healthier… right?


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