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Lamont chided by anti-smoking advocates

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(The Center Square) — Anti-smoking groups are fuming at Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont for highlighting tobacco giant Philip Morris International’s plans to donate to women’s causes, accusing him of “purplewashing” the impact of tobacco products on women in the state.

Lamont gathered on Monday with Phillip Morris executives to announce that the Stamford-based company is making a $5 million donation to the Women’s Business Development Council in honor of Women’s History Month. The money will be distributed over the next five years, the company said.

“Philip Morris International is committed to making a positive impact throughout Connecticut communities and beyond,” the company said. “Our partnership with WBDC and investment through the ‘Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative’ enables us to better support Gov. Ned Lamont’s vision of positioning our state as a catalyst for women and their families.”

But the event is being slammed by the American Lung Association, which said it was “appalled” to see Lamont and several state lawmakers standing with “big tobacco” to announce the donation. In a statement, the group said the event is “ironic and inappropriate considering the harmful impacts their products have on women in our state and across the nation.”

“This is a brazen example of ‘purplewashing’ a critical women’s health issue,” said Ruth Canovi, the association’s director of advocacy, in reference to the practice of corporations giving money to causes to deflect attention from harmful practices.

Cigarette use leads to approximately 202,000 deaths of American women annually, including over 70,000 from lung and bronchus cancers, according to Lung Association data, and female smokers are nearly 22 times more likely to die from COPD than women who never smoked.

“The history of Philip Morris addicting women to its deadly products via its pervasive marketing aimed at young women is well-established,” Canovi said.

In 2022, Philip Morris International — a Swiss-American multinational cigarette and tobacco manufacturing company — moved its corporate headquarters from New York to Connecticut, bringing with it 200 jobs.

Lamont was among a group of elected officials who attended the company’s November 2021 press conference announcing the relocation, saying he believes the company is committed to weaning people off of smoking.

“PMI is a company that’s reinventing itself,” Lamont said at the time. “I’m so proud that they’ve called Connecticut home.”

To be sure, PMI doesn’t sell cigarettes in the U.S. market, and is focused mostly on smoke-free products. Domestic cigarette sales are overseen by Philip Morris USA, an Altria company.

But the Lung Association says the company’s history of marketing “deadly” tobacco products to women makes them an “inappropriate” partner for Lamont to team up with on women’s issues.

“Instead of giving Big Tobacco a platform, Connecticut’s decision-makers should spend efforts on funding its tobacco prevention program and fighting the number one preventable cause of death and disease for women in the state,” the association said.

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