RICHMOND, Va. - The head of cigarettemaker Philip Morris International told a cancer nurse Wednesday that while cigarettes are harmful and addictive, it is not that hard to quit.
CEO Louis C. Camilleri's statement was in response to comments at its annual shareholder meeting in New York. Executives from the seller of Marlboro and other brands overseas spent most of the gathering sparring with members of antitobacco and corporate accountability groups.
The nurse, later identified as Elisabeth Gundersen from the University of California at San Francisco, cited statistics that tobacco use kills more than 400,000 Americans and 5 million people worldwide each year. She is a member of the Nightingales Nurses, an activist group that works to focus public attention on the tobacco industry. Gundersen also said a patient told her last week that of all the addictions he has beaten - crack, cocaine, meth - cigarettes have been the most difficult.
The often-unapologetic Camilleri said: "We take our responsibility very seriously, and I don't think we get enough recognition for the efforts we make to ensure that there is effective worldwide regulation of a product that is harmful and that is addictive. Nevertheless, whilst it is addictive, it is not that hard to quit. ...There are more previous smokers in America today than current smokers."
Camilleri is a longtime smoker.