by Christine Contillo, BSN, BS, RN-C

Nightingales Nurses Julia Buss and Carol Southard at 2010 PMI shareholders' meeting, NYC

Last month I joined three other nurses from across the country at the annual Philip Morris International (PMI) shareholders’ meeting in New York City. Wearing lab coats to represent the fact that we’re committed health professionals, we each used our two minutes of the question-and-answer period to confront PMI Chairman and CEO Louis Camilleri about the company’s questionable practices in targeting new (and often underage) smokers in developing nations. With patient advocacy, science, and education on our side, we challenged the heavily advertised and misrepresentative claims of Big Tobacco (PMI currently owns seven of the 15 top-selling cigarette brands worldwide).

Ruth Malone, a nurse and professor of nursing and health policy at the University of California, San Francisco, started the Nightingales as a result of her examination of internal tobacco industry documents. Among these papers was a memo declaring that because nurses command respect, they could prove formidable opponents if they were better organized. Since 2004, the Nightingales have attended the annual shareholders’ meeting to focus attention on the suffering and adverse health effects of cigarette smoking that we nurses witness daily. We’ve read letters from patients and their families, challenged the company’s claim of commitment to harm reduction and addiction prevention, and generally try to expose its methods of portraying smoking as fun and glamorous. This year, when Camilleri said in his opening remarks that it is the sale of loose cigarettes that poses a danger to public health, I pointed out that all cigarettes are a danger. He replied, “Not so . . . [because] it is unknown what chemicals or additives may be in loose or unbranded cigarettes.” Then he asked if the nurses would partner with PMI to try to enact legislation banning the sale of loose cigarettes—no doubt knowing that any such collaboration would only lend PMI medical respectability.

Please visit www.nightingalesnurses.org and consider joining us next year. And read more about the Nightingales’ past efforts here and here. There are nearly 3 million nurses in this country; together we really can make a difference.

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