Readers Report

Smoke and Mirrors in Marlboro Country

The comments of top executives in ''Philip Morris: Inside America's most reviled company'' (Cover Story, Nov. 29) may help them to sleep at night but will do little to change public opinion. What is indelibly etched in the collective consciousness is the image of Big Tobacco's seven CEOs lying before a congressional committee about tobacco's addictiveness. No amount of legal legerdemain or public relations will ever alter the damage done by their testimony in blatant contradiction of what was widely known within the industry about tobacco's lethal properties.

Walt Gardner
Los Angeles

The tobacco executive's answer to ''how can you work for a company that kills people?'' is that cigarettes are a lawful product and that every adult should have the freedom of choice to buy. The freedom of choice by adults is as it should be, but is the product lawful, and are the industry promotional activities legal? Has the tobacco industry been above the law while the government looked the other way? Is is lawful for tobacco to be processed and sold without regulation by the Food & Drug Administration? Is the tobacco-industry conspiracy to hide the hazardous and addictive nature of tobacco from the public illegal? The moment of truth is close at hand on these issues.

Joseph Pellon
Stamford, Conn.

In 1964, the Surgeon General warned that cigarette smoking could be hazardous to your health. I was only 7 at the time, but I understood the message. But only now is the public distrustful of tobacco CEOs. Perhaps the distrust would be better directed at politicians who are now suing tobacco companies--after years of tobacco revenue-sharing through cigarette taxes, while concurrently requiring health warnings on every pack.

David A. Senior
Sherman Oaks, Calif.

That Paul W. Hendrys uses his ''quitting'' smoking 20 times, often for a few weeks or months, as an attempt to suggest it is easy to quit smoking would be laughable if it didn't reflect the sad fact that nicotine is extremely addictive. While a large percentage of cigarette smokers may be able to quit for short periods of time, the relapse rate, after one year, for smoking cessation is about the same, or higher, as for stopping heroin use. Each year, 70% of U.S. smokers want to quit, 34% of smokers attempt to quit, but only about 2.5% actually quit for one year.

Some might consider Philip Morris' campaign efforts to stop underage smoking a good start, but it is at most only that. If Philip Morris really wanted to stop underage smoking, it would initiate stronger measures, such as a unilateral policy not to supply cigarettes to any store that has been caught selling to minors. They might also support harsh financial and community-service penalties for those store owners. However, if they developed effective strategies to stop underage smoking, they would lose 80% to 90% of their business--because 80% to 90% of smokers start before 18, and more than 96% start before 21.

Michael Rabinoff
UCLA Neuropsychiatric
Institute & Hospital
Los Angeles

How the World Bank Is Fighting Child Labor

'''Bribe' Third World parents to keep their kids in school'' (Economic Viewpoint, Nov. 22) argues for the case of reducing child labor through financial incentives to poor families, as in the case of the Mexican program Progresa, and calls upon governments and the World Bank to introduce similar programs. Poverty is the main cause of child labor, and poverty reduction is the World Bank's overarching objective.

The World Bank already supports programs that reduce the cost of school attendance for poor children or provide financial incentives to this effect. In Indonesia, following the financial crisis and an expected increase in school dropouts and child labor, the World Bank supported the back-to-school program with a project that provides scholarships to students in poor or crisis-hit areas. The World Bank is also working with Brazil on the Child Labor Eradication Program, which provides financial incentives for poor families to keep kids in school. Both programs are part of government policy and were developed in collaboration with international organizations such as UNICEF and ILO).

Child labor is a complex and vast issue, and the battle against it will succeed only when there is a national commitment accompanied by support from the international community.

Zafiris Tzannatos
Global Child Labor Program
World Bank

Why a Free Lunch at Your ATM?

Do any of those politicians or consumer groups remember what it was like trying to access cash in your account if your bank wasn't within walking or driving distance? (''Why ATM outrage is so misplaced,'' News: Analysis & Commentary, Nov. 29). Try to cash a check at another bank? Have Western Union wire the money?

In the old days, it was much more expensive, if not more difficult, for consumers to get money out of their accounts. The cost to obtain your money today worldwide via the ATM network is far less.

Deke Thornton
Rockport, Tex.

As a common laborer, so grateful not to have to make trips into town during banking hours to retrieve my cash, I would like to commend Wells Fargo and Bank of America for their reaction to the questionable ordinances passed by San Francisco and Santa Monica, Calif., concerning ATMs. I also commend Mike McNamee for his perceptive commentary.

No one is forced to use these conveniences. The laws of supply and demand should not be violated because of misplaced charity and paternalism by city fathers. Unlike the need to protect unsuspecting motorists from unsafe vehicles, no one should be denied the choice of using or not a given convenience if they are willing to pay for it. However, I would be in favor of requiring an appropriate ''caveat emptor'' on the screens of all ATMs.

Fred Kreyenbuhl
Hollister, Calif.

In the Pipeline: More Female CEOs

With the exception of the companies, CEOs today are selected from the ranks of the mid-1970s college graduates. Unfortunately, in those years, females represented less than 10% of the college graduates in engineering, science, medicine, law, and business administration (''The CEO still wears wingtips,'' Working Life, Nov. 22). So today's pattern of 10% to 12% of top corporate officers represents the 1970s' picture of graduating females in the technical and business professions.

Today, with the exception of engineering, which still has only 25% female graduates, many professions--architecture, veterinary science, computer sciences, medicine, dentistry, law, and biological sciences--are about 50% female. Given the historic 25-year cycle to develop CEOs, I'm certain that by 2025 we'll see 50% of the top business and political slots filled by women. We need more females in the professions and as CEOs because they have the right skills.

Joseph J. Neff

The Net Can't Replace Independent Insurance Agents

Sure, you can shop around for insurance and, in some cases, even buy over the Internet (''Insurers step gingerly into cyberspace,'' Information Technology, Nov. 22). But wouldn't it be better to let someone who really knows insurance do the shopping for you?

Independent insurance agents can provide quotes from several companies, and--surprise--those policies often cost less than ones that are offered direct. More important, an agent can help you secure the right coverage for your family, assets, and business, and can also act as your advocate if you have a claim. That's why insurance will never be a commodity like airline tickets, books, or flowers, and why 92% of consumers prefer using an agent when buying insurance. Their financial security is too important to trust to a computer.

Bill Houston, President
Independent Insurance
Agents of America Inc.
Alexandria, Va.

Alas, Microsoft Must Go under the Knife

While I agree with your concerns about government intervention in any market, least of all one as fast-moving as high tech, I am aghast at your recommendation of open source code as a remedy in the Microsoft situation (''Microsoft: The right remedy,'' Editorials, Nov. 22). It ignores what has happened and how the market works.

Microsoft Corp. did not get where it is by having the best products. It got there by having adequate products and then abusing market power to make those products the de facto ''standard.'' Applications developers have been hindered not by product capabilities but by timing (Microsoft knows where Windows is going and therefore develops applications that take advantage of new operating-system features sooner) and by distribution (Microsoft can bundle, leverage operating-system licensing agreements, and afford to lose money on strategic products because of profits from its monopoly).

I'm not a Microsoft-hater: The company has great people, and they do a fantastic job of adjusting to market changes and leveraging their strengths. That's the heart of the problem. Horizontal breakup is the only remedy that can work. The monopoly would still exist, but it is much less likely to be abused to let the company break into new markets. Simply making Windows source code open does nothing to its operating-system monopoly; Microsoft still would have the market power to continue unfair practices in applications, the Internet, and telecommunications.

Yes, a breakup will be messy. Yes, the markets may morph into something where Microsoft might not be able to abuse its monopoly power. But we live in the here and now.

Bob Anderson
Pacific Palisades, Calif.

''Outta here at Microsoft'' (Information Technology, Nov. 29, 1999)

''Outta here at Microsoft'' (Information Technology, Nov. 29) incorrectly reported that Microsoft Vice-President for Human Resources Chris Williams visited with British Telecom recently. He visited BP Amoco PLC. Also, the article incorrectly stated that Microsoft planned to hike salaries early next year. The company is reviewing its salaries but had not announced increases.

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Smoke and Mirrors in Marlboro Country

How the World Bank Is Fighting Child Labor

Why a Free Lunch at Your ATM?

In the Pipeline: More Female CEOs

The Net Can't Replace Independent Insurance Agents

Alas, Microsoft Must Go under the Knife

''Outta here at Microsoft'' (Information Technology, Nov. 29, 1999)

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