Philip Morris International (PMI), worldwide seller of cigarettes like Marlboro, is using the popular New Year’s resolution to quit smoking to promote its push into smoke-free nicotine products in the U.K.
The gigantic cigarette company has taken out full-page ads in several British papers proclaiming, “OUR NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION: WE’RE TRYING TO GIVE UP CIGARETTES.”
The company also promises to support local quit-smoking programs in areas of the U.K. with the highest smoking rates, and to ask for permission to insert information on quitting (and low-risk alternatives) into cigarette packs.
“We believe we have an important role to play in helping the U.K. become smoke-free,” PMI managing director Peter Nixon wrote in a letter to U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, according to CBS News. “The commitments announced today are practical steps that could accelerate that goal. We recognize that never starting to smoke — or quitting altogether — are always the best option.”
The New Nicotine Alliance (NNA) offered a “cautious welcome” to the PMI campaign. The U.K. vaping and smokeless tobacco advocates note that it “appears as if it has potential to deliver genuine benefits, and does indeed make it clear what alternatives are available and where to find them. This is the essence of harm reduction and dovetails with the aims of the government’s commitment to ‘nudge’ policies.”
The new ad campaign is part of PMI’s recent pledge to shift its business away from combustible tobacco, and toward reduced-risk products, like its heat-not-burn (HNB) device IQOS. PMI is selling IQOS in the U.K. already, but the company’s marketing strategy looks as much like a public relations move as an actual attempt to sell the product.
IQOS has had great success in Japan though, and many harm reduction advocates point to that country as an example of how HNB products could displace cigarette sales elsewhere. However, nicotine-containing vapor products are illegal in Japan, and indoor smoking laws and advertising rules are far different than in most western countries.
The company has also pledged $1 billion over the next 12 years to fund the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World. The foundation claims it will “will build upon recent shifts in policy and science to fund research and support collaborative initiatives to accelerate progress in reducing harm and deaths from smoking worldwide.”
Of course, public health and tobacco control groups aren’t much interested. Their positions on PMI’s move to low-risk products range from wary to adamantly opposed. Groups like the Truth Initiative demand that the tobacco giant stop selling cigarettes completely if it wants to be taken seriously.
It’s hard to imagine tobacco control organizations ever supporting anything PMI chooses to do. Even if the company took cigarettes off the shelves and gave all the profits it has made in the last hundred years to widows and orphans, anti-tobacco zealots would find fault with PMI.
Meanwhile, smokers keep dying.