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Tuesday, 17 July, 2001, 14:46 GMT 15:46 UK
Philip Morris: Tobacco and food giant
Philip Morris brands
PM: Less well known as the owner of Toblerone and Dairylea
What connects Margaret Thatcher and Maxwell House?

And no, it's not the bitter aftertaste.

The answer is that they have both contributed to the earnings of Philip Morris, the world's biggest tobacco company.

High-profile support aimed at winning customers in less developed markets and diversification into other products are just two of the strategies the company has used for defending and expanding a business under attack on its home turf.

Philip Morris brands
Philadelphia cream cheese
Miller beer
Maxwell House
Birds Custard
And with a US jury having recently ordered Philip Morris to pay one smoker suffering from terminal cancer more than $3bn in damages, the tobacco giant has good reason to believe that the battle with litigators is far from over.

Another angle to the company's defence has also emerged in the past few years - to be more up-front about the dangers of smoking in the hope this will reduce the level of any future damages awards.

Most recently, Philip Morris has caused controversy for appearing to suggest premature deaths from smoking bring economic benefits since governments will not have to stump up for years of healthcare or housing for the elderly.

BBC News Online has this timeline of the key events and milestones in the tobacco and food giant's history.

Mid 19th century Philip Morris opens tobacconist in Bond Street, London.

1854 Philip Morris makes its first cigarette.

1902 The company is incorporated in the United States.

1919 Philip Morris' heirs and US business partner sell out to a US company.

1954 In one of the earliest cases of tobacco litigation, a Missouri smoker sues Philip Morris after losing his larynx to cancer.

1962 The case eventually comes before a jury, which deliberates for one hour before finding in favour of the tobacco giant.

1968 Annual sales hit $1bn.

1969 In one of its first big moves to diversify away from tobacco, Philip Morris buys Miller Brewing.

1972 Marlboro becomes the world's best-selling cigarette.

1978 Buys 7-Up.

1980 Sales hit $10bn.

1983 Philip Morris overtakes RJ Reynolds to become the number one US tobacco company in terms of sales.

1985 Buys Maxwell House coffee and starts Philip Morris magazine (now defunct).

1986 Sales rise to $25bn following a series of major food industry acquisitions.

1988 A long-running court case brings to light a document titled "Motives and Incentives of Cigarette Smoking". The 1972 confidential report prepared by the Philip Morris Research Centre said, "Think of the cigarette as a dispenser for a dose of nicotine".

It was the first in a series of industry documents that dented the legal defence of tobacco companies. The judge said he found evidence of a conspiracy by three tobacco companies that was "vast in its scope, devious in its purpose, and devastating in its results".

The same year, Philip Morris steps up its diversification strategy, buying Kraft Foods in what was thought to be the largest non-oil corporate takeover in US history.

1992 Sales hit $60bn and Financial World ranks Marlboro the world's most valuable brand.

But "Marlboro Man" Wayne McLaren, star of the company's adverts, dies of lung cancer, aged 51.

1995 Marlboro has 29% of the US cigarette market.

Philip Morris recalls eight billion cigarettes because of suspected chemical contamination.

"Marlboro Man" David McLean dies of lung cancer, aged 73.

1998 In the US, the tobacco industry agrees to a settlement with the attorneys general of 46 states to pay out $206bn over 25 years to cover costs of Medicaid and other tobacco-related claims and lawsuits.

As part of the settlement, the industry also agrees to a range of advertising and marketing restrictions. The industry had previously settled with the attorneys general of the four other states.

1999 In a notice on its website, Philip Morris publicly acknowledges for the first time that smoking causes fatal diseases.

2000 Sales hit $80bn. Philip Morris is now one of the world's biggest food companies as well as the top cigarette maker.

Fifteen of its brands generate annual sales of more than $1bn each while the group employs 178,000 people.

Nabisco, the US's number one biscuit maker, is added to the company's portfolio after a $19bn takeover.

But the litigation continues. A US court orders Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds to pay a total of $20m to a smoker dying of lung cancer.

The ruling is the first to hold cigarette makers responsible for the health of people who took up smoking after warning labels were made compulsory on packets of cigarettes in 1965.

2001 A US jury orders Philip Morris to pay $3bn in damages to a smoker suffering terminal cancer who claimed he wasn't warned of the dangers of smoking.

The company appeals.

One week later, Philip Morris raises almost $9bn selling 16% of Kraft Foods in the second largest initial public offering in US corporate history.

In July, Philip Morris is again in the headlines after a report that it commissioned and delivered to the Czech government said premature deaths from smoking benefited governments because smokers would not live to use healthcare or housing for the elderly.

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See also:

07 Jun 01 | Americas
US smoker wins billions in damages
07 Jun 01 | Business
Q&A: Tobacco litigation
07 Jun 01 | Business
What now for Big Tobacco?
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