Philip Morris Says it’s Time to Stub out Cigarettes, but Is it Just Blowing Smoke?

Philip Morris International (PMI) says it hopes to phase out cigarettes and provide “healthier” alternatives to its customers, but some are skeptical of this move.

PMI owns major cigarette brands, such as Marlboro, so news that it wants to move away from cigarettes might be somewhat surprising.

Sky News published an article about PMI’s research facilities where it is exploring other, and it argues less harmful, ways of using tobacco. For example, its IQOS device does not burn tobacco but rather heats the tobacco, which releases in fewer toxic chemicals. Though, as the Sky News article points out, the science surrounding whether this actually translates into a reduction of smoking-related diseases is still not settled.

Regardless, PMI has actually been saying it wants to move away from cigarettes for awhile now. In May of 2018 the company published an article to its own website to accompany a series of “We’re moving away from cigarettes. How about you?” promos it made at the start of 2018. The series spelled out its reported reasons for quitting cigarettes and supporting a World No Smoking Day.

The company says that while, in an ideal world, people would quit smoking and that would be that, we know that doesn’t happen. As a result, PMI is looking for ways it can help people move from smoking cigarettes to using products that are significantly less harmful and thereby help consumers make healthier choices. It called on the World Health Organization to issue policy directives that would support moving to cigarette alternatives like the IQOS and vaping technologies.

On the face of it, this might sound like PMI is making great strides at being a responsible tobacco brand. It has stated a clear intent to move away from cigarettes in once-important sales sectors, like the UK, and is reportedly investing billions in cigarette alternatives. What it hasn’t done, however, is stick a firm deadline on when it wants to make that move.

That makes good business sense, of course. The demand for cigarettes in the UK will not simply vanish overnight, and PMI seems confident it can still achieve its aims while continuing to make money off of people who do want to keep smoking.

Skepticism Around PMI’s Motives

PMI has faced some criticism, however. For example, the World No Smoking Day PMI it’s pushing may not be quite so altruistic as it first appears. Remember the IQOS devices from the Sky News article? That and other such devices did make an albeit quiet appearance in the push, and this seems reflective of the overall direction PMI is taking its business.

PMI Chief Executive Officer, André Calantzopoulos, said at the time, “For people who will otherwise continue to smoke, WHO is in the perfect position to drive switching from cigarettes to sensible alternatives. A policy that informs people about those alternatives – in essence, a World No Smoking Day – would reduce smoking prevalence to a far greater extent and at a much faster rate than the existing suite of tobacco-control measures alone.”

He added, “People who smoke deserve a sensible plan that takes full account of better alternatives to cigarettes. For our part, we’re determined to deliver a smoke-free future through innovations that stand up to scientific scrutiny and that meet consumer needs.”

Of course, PMI is not the only company offering cigarette alternatives. There are now so many e-cigarette and other vaping solutions out there that governments are racing to catch up by creating policy frameworks that prevent their sale to minors and curb the claims that companies can make about these products.

And that’s the rub for many critics of PMI: cigarettes are a dying industry—in the West at least. While it may very well be that cigarette companies do want to move toward healthier alternatives, they also have a larger vested interest in moving people to cigarette-alternatives as quickly as possible, because the legislative, tax and policy loops surrounding cigarettes are quickly turning into nooses.

Cigarettes don’t sell like they used to in industrialized nations, but vaping and e-cigarette solutions? They could be an entirely new lease of life for an industry that would otherwise have died.

Other critics have pointed out that PMI and other smoking giants’ concerns for the health of its users is somewhat surprising. That’s not just because of the aggressive lobbying companies did in previous decades to get people hooked at as young an age as possible to ensure they would be lifelong smokers. Rather, it is that these tactics are still at play in parts of the world today.

A commentary piece in Fortune reminds us that PMI is among a number of tobacco giants that continues to fight with every legal mechanism at its disposal—and with PMI’s economic resources, those mechanisms are vast—things like tobacco taxes and smoke-free laws that can actually drive down cigarette use.

More widely, cigarette companies as a whole have been embracing a smoke-free future in places like Europe and to an extent the US, while at the same time marketing cigarettes and lobbying against smoking control measures in places like Kenya and across Africa.

A Guardian exposé from 2017 notes that PMI itself lobbied against Ethiopia’s use of branding and labeling bans and made similar moves by threatening trade ramifications if other countries, like Togo, moved to restrict tobacco sales.

So, is Phillip Morris International genuine about wanting a World No Smoking Day? Maybe, but so far it has shown little evidence that it truly wants to help people quit tobacco and nicotine products for good—which, ultimately, is what would be healthiest for all of us.

Photo credit: Getty Images.

63 comments

Vincent T
Vincent T21 days ago

tyfs

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Anna R
Anna R23 days ago

thank you

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Jessica C
Jessica C25 days ago

Smoking is one of the most disgusting and selfish habits! All cigarettes should be illegal and banned!

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Glennis W
Glennis W29 days ago

Still temping Thank you for caring nd sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis W29 days ago

I gave it up witj a fright Thank you for caring nd sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis W29 days ago

Good for the nerves Thank you for caring nd sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis W29 days ago

Interesting Thank you for caring nd sharing

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Mary B
Mary Babout a month ago

There is American Spirit tobacco, grown organically by the Natives, pipe tobacco which my Dad used and chewing tobacco [yuck] which I don't know why anybody uses, but the point is this is another one of those choice issues that can be regulated and taxed but people will only give it up when they are ready and able.

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Janis K
Janis Kabout a month ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Laura R
Laura Rabout a month ago

Thanks.

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