I love the Atlantic Monthly. I read many of the gifted writers there. I am gratified to see the magazine’s recent commercial and critical successes. I am not happy to see the Atlantic–like many other glossy mags–taking advertisements from Altria, parent company of Philip Morris, the nation’s largest tobacco company.
Cigarettes are not ordinary consumer products. Altria and its industry peers are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths every year. These firms’ unethical behavior over many decades has caused millions of avoidable and agonizing deaths in the United States and around the world. I know something about two of these deaths. My movie-star handsome father-in-law could have played the Marlboro man on television—right up to the moment he was diagnosed with lung cancer, shriveled down to a husk, and died. My mother-in-law died of complications of lung cancer not long after.
Tobacco companies want to reach opinion elites, to present themselves as responsible, implicitly reformed corporate citizens. That’s not what they are, no matter how many ads they buy to tout their “We Card” campaign against youth smoking. Altria and its peers should be regulated stringently and heavily taxed to discourage further cigarette consumption. Outside the realm of public policy, they should be treated with the coolest of civilities.
I know it’s hard for charities and many nonprofit organizations to refuse Altria’s money. I’m not going to get all high-and-mighty about some struggling soup kitchen that decides to take it. A venerable institution such as Atlantic Monthly can do a lot better.