Richmond, Va. (AP) - The head of cigarette maker Philip Morris International Inc. 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, in which the seller of Marlboro and other brands overseas spent most of the gathering sparring with members of anti-tobacco and other groups targeting its marketing and regulatory dealings.
A woman identifying herself as a nurse named Elizabeth from the University of California-San Francisco cited statistics that tobacco use kills more than 400,000 Americans and 5 million people worldwide each year.
She also said a patient told her last week that of all the addictions he's beaten -- crack, cocaine, meth -- cigarettes have been the most difficult.
In response, 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."
Philip Morris International, with offices in New York and Lausanne, Switzerland, was spun off from Richmond, Va.-based Altria in March 2008. Altria still sells Marlboro and other Philip Morris brands in the U.S.
Philip Morris International is the world's largest non-governmental cigarette seller, smaller only than state-controlled China National Tobacco Corp.