“New Day, New Way”¹ is the title of a proposal for modernizing foreign assistance, but it could just as easily have been the title for the policy shift that Josh Slavitt led for Altria Group / Philip Morris.
From 1990 to 2006, Josh served Philip Morris in various positions directing Policy & Planning, Public Policy, External Affairs, Government Affairs Policy & Outreach, and Issues Management.
Historically, the company had maintained an adversarial relationship with government over regulation and enforcement policies concerning tobacco.
Starting in 1994, Josh introduced a new perspective–to achieve the best corporate outcome, they would consider the tobacco control community as a recognized stakeholder and develop formal relationships with public health officials seeking to implement practical solutions to address health and use issues for tobacco products.
Josh called this new approach, Common Ground.
It was a pretty radical departure from past practice and he quickly developed a reputation for change leadership based on sound research, planning, and ultimately careful execution. Based on his work, Philip Morris supported the passage of state minimum age laws restricting tobacco sales to minors. He also created the first ever smoke free facilities policy within Philip Morris International, and advocated for FDA to regulate tobacco products.
These unprecedented positions were significant departures from historical norm and met some serious opposition from the tobacco industry and from within Philip Morris.
Minimum Age Laws
Josh conducted research on leading tobacco control organizations, their views, and resources.
Eventually, he convinced management that it would be in the interest of the company to be part of the solution rather than to resist and end up with extremely punitive laws.
To prevent minors from purchasing cigarettes, Altria / Philip Morris needed the support of the law enforcement community because they had no legal authority to penalize retailers who sold tobacco products and could have in fact been held in violation of federal anti-trust laws for withholding premiums or other incentives from retailers without a legitimate legal reason.
The nation’s law enforcement community initially did not want to get involved in policing tobacco sales, which they viewed as an administrative burden that would interfere with fighting major crimes and divert resources to an issue that was a misdemeanor crime.
Starting in 1995, Josh worked with the National Association’s Police Organization’s (NAPO) leadership to educate their board of directors about the importance of upholding new minimum age laws. NAPO represents 3,000 police organizations with more than 240,000 law enforcement personnel around the country.
The NAPO support for Altria / Philip Morris’ efforts to prevent tobacco sales to minors proved pivotal in getting legislators to enact tough laws and provide funding for enforcement.
NAPO received considerable recognition for championing this effort.
Over the next 10 years, he worked very closely with NAPO’s leadership in supporting one of their priority causes, the national Top Cops Award program to recognize bravery in the line of duty (in many cases posthumously). Josh also supported efforts to provide disaster relief resources in Florida, Texas, and New Orleans for law enforcement officers who were affected by hurricanes and other natural disasters.
In 2003, NAPO recognized Josh’s efforts and those of Altria Groupby awarding him the Association’s Highest Civilian Award, the National Association of Police Organization’s Lawer Award.
Smoke Free Facilities
While working in Australia, Josh led a multi-functional task force involving every department in the market that created the first ever smoke free facilities policy within Philip Morris International.
Prior to that time, every international subsidiary vigorously sought exemptions from any public health laws that prevented smoking in the workplace. In 2001, the company was directed by the Victorian Office of Health and Safety to ban smoking in all of its facilities.
Because of the company’s new policy (that it would not debate public health issues related to tobacco products or interfere with public health laws related to tobacco use or exposure), Josh promoted the view that PMI could not legitimately seek to exempt itself from the Victorian law forbidding smoking in public places.
The company’s lawyers and scientific affairs personnel agreed with that assessment.
Consequently, through his efforts, Philip Morris Australia developed a comprehensive policy that included internal and external communications, as well as implementation procedures for creating external smoking facilities for employees.
Australia was the first market out of 170 international markets to implement a comprehensive policy.
The policy was ultimately used by other PMI markets as well as by the corporate parent, Altria Group, when New York City banned smoking in all workplaces in 2003. The plan that he developed mandated transparent and clear communications with employees as to the reason why the company was changing its policy and complying with the law.
Although many tobacco employees were upset by this new change in policy, Josh helped facilitate a smooth transition of all company facilities from smoking to non-smoking.
When the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act was passed in 1938, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was established to oversee the product safety of a range of consumable products excluding tobacco.
Federal regulation of the tobacco industry fell under the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms focused on revenue enforcement, collecting taxes (revenue) and preventing smuggling and counterfeiting. In the 1990s, the scientific evidence confirmed the presence of at least 21 major carcinogenic compounds in tobacco products.
Consumers wanted to know which products contained the highest and lowest quantities of the carcinogenic substances, but there was no objective industry-wide entity to perform the tests and quantify the contents to back-up advertising claims and product labeling.
In 2004, as Sr. Director Government Affairs Policy & Outreach, Josh was asked by the VP of Government Affairs to manage the company’s national campaign to seek FDA regulation of tobacco products.
Altria Group was opposed by every other U.S. tobacco company and a number of conservative Members of Congress. Josh initiated a 50-state/435 congressional district stakeholder and media engagement campaign to support Federal Government Affairs’ efforts to enact FDA regulation.
As a result of the stakeholder relations campaign nationwide, over 5,000 personal contacts and meetings were held with U.S. Senators to advocate for passage of the FDA regulation bill.
Josh successfully neutralized a number of retail and conservative organizations that would normally have opposed FDA regulation.
In 2004, the U.S. Senate passed an FDA regulation by a vote of 99-0 with one abstention. Unfortunately, the House Republican leaders sided with other tobacco companies to block passage of the bill in the U.S. House of Representatives so the bill ultimately died during that congressional session.
Clearly, the historic Senate 99-0 vote in favor of FDA regulation forged new alliances for the company with tobacco control and public health groups and ultimately paved the way for the enactment of the FDA regulation by the U.S. House and Senate in 2009.
President Obama signed the bill into law and the FDA now officially regulates tobacco products.
By introducing a new perspective to achieve the best outcome for the corporation through finding common ground and working with rather than against scientific evidence, I developed a reputation for leading organizational change efforts. Josh identified external stakeholders that could positively or negatively affect the company’s financial standing and reputation and developed strategies to engage them to build relationships to favorably improve the company’s position and mitigate any negative activity.
Josh became a specialist in strategic grass roots program development to support legislative initiatives and advance corporate reputation. For Altria Group / Philip Morris (as well as the entire tobacco industry), he contributed to creating a new day and a new way of defining corporate responsibility and demonstrating corporate leadership.
¹ New Day, New Way, U.S. Foreign Assistance for the 21st Century. Report released June 1, 2008 by Wye River Consensus Group. http://www.modernizingforeignassistance.net/documents/newdaynewway.pdf
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