Shareholder vote brings Philip Morris new corporate name: Altria Group


Friday, April 26th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Shareholders of Philip Morris seem intent on showing that the nation's largest cigarette maker is more than just a tobacco company.

The investors voted Thursday to change the company's name, long synonymous with the tobacco industry, to Altria Group.

The name change, affecting all but Philip Morris' tobacco operating divisions and ``MO'' stock symbol, was approved by 95 percent of eligible shareholders.

The vote came after nearly an hour of sometimes harsh criticism of the company's marketing policies from dissident stockholders.

Dr. Eva Kralikova of the Czech Republic asked the company to ``change more than its name.'' She said Philip Morris' marketing is so pervasive in her country that a slang term there for a cigarette is ``an America,'' and that the Marlboro Man image attracts young people.

Anti-smoking groups say the company is doing little more than changing its name. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids took out a large ad in Wednesday's New York Times depicting a coiled snake with its tongue sticking out. It says: ``No matter how often a snake sheds its skin ... It's still a snake.''

Last year, tobacco accounted for 61 percent of business for the company, which also owns Kraft Foods, Nabisco and Miller Brewing.

Security was tight at the meeting, which drew several hundred stockholders. About 20 to 30 protesters stood outside the factory gate in the rain.

The company is by far the biggest player in the tobacco industry in the United States, with 51 percent of the market.