PMI’s 2030 vision
Tuesday, January 30, 2018 at 17:14
Simon Clark

Philip Morris is in the news again.

It's 14 months since chief executive Andre Calantzopoulos told the Today programme (BBC Radio 4) that PMI could stop making conventional cigarettes.

The announcement made headlines around the world.

In June last year the company's UK and Ireland MD Peter Nixon told the same programme, "We are absolutely serious – one day we want to stop selling cigarettes."

In October PMI attracted more attention by announcing it was going to support a new initiative, the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, by giving it $1 billion over twelve years.

Four weeks ago the company placed advertisements in UK newspapers that declared, 'Our New Year's Resolution. We're trying to give up cigarettes'.

At the same time PMI launched a shiny new website, Smoke-Free Future. Visit it for yourself but here's a taste:

Cigarette smoking causes serious disease and is addictive. Without question, the best decision any smoker can make is to quit smoking. And many people do. In the UK, the number of smokers has halved over the last 20 years.

Many people quit without professional help. Others quit with the support of family, counselling services or cessation aids.

Under 'More information on the benefits of quitting' the site adds, 'Whatever the method, what matters most is quitting.'

Behind all this activity is iQOS, PMI's new heated tobacco device. Launched in Japan, where it has proved immensely popular with many smokers, iQOS is now available in more than 25 countries including the UK but not America (which I'll come to in a minute).

But first I must stress how much I support the concept of heated tobacco. Two years ago I wrote:

The reason I'm interested in heat-not-burn products is because, wearing my Forest hat, anything that offers a safer method of consuming tobacco ought to interest smokers, especially if it mimics the act of smoking and still involves tobacco.

Of course there are enormous hurdles for emerging tobacco products to overcome, including opposition from politicians, public health campaigners and even some vapers whose reluctance to embrace HNB alongside e-cigarettes is rather sad.

Even if the benefits aren't as significant as using e-cigs I welcome the additional choice they could provide. The fact that HNB devices are genuine tobacco products, unlike e-cigarettes, counts in their favour.

Since then research conducted by the Centre for Substance Use Research has confirmed that while a substantial number of committed smokers have tried vaping, e-cigarettes often fall short when it comes to customer satisfaction.

That's why I was rooting for PMI when the company gave evidence last week to a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel in America. According to Reuters (US health advisors weigh risks of novel Philip Morris tobacco device):

The committee is charged with reviewing and evaluating tobacco products and will make a recommendation to FDA on whether to approve the company’s application to market the [heated tobacco] product as “lower-risk.”

FDA has to first decide whether to grant or deny Philip Morris’s application to sell iQOS in the US.

If approved, the products will be marketed and sold by Altria Group, the parent company of Philip Morris USA, via a commercial agreement between the two companies.

The outcome was mixed - FDA panel gives qualified support to claims for ‘safer’ smoking device - but my guess is that the FDA will grant PMI’s application to sell iQOS in America. In the absence of any further evidence, however, I imagine officials will adopt the precautionary principle and prohibit claims about reduced risk.

So, yes, I applaud the development of products like iQOS, but what saddens me is the way PMI has jumped on the anti-smoking bandwagon with its other initiatives. I understand the strategy but it doesn't make it right. You can advocate harm reduction without undermining and abandoning those who enjoy smoking and don't want to quit.

Anyway I've been aching for an opportunity to respond directly to PMI and an unexpected source – the Daily Star Online – finally gave me the chance when Forest was asked last week to react to comments by a PMI executive reported here:

The END of smoking: Tobacco firm to STOP selling Marlboro and B&H cigarettes in the UK.

Ignore the assertive yet inaccurate headline. (Marlboro is a PMI brand, B&H isn't, and while the company may aspire to stop selling cigarettes, there's no guarantee it will.) The article however is quite informative:

Mark MacGregor, PMI’s director of corporate affairs for the UK and Ireland, said the company is looking to a future when “cigarettes will no longer be on the market”.

“If we stopped selling them tomorrow, somebody else would sell them cigarettes,” he said. “It wouldn’t produce any benefit for those smokers.

“That’s why we’re focused on trying to persuade our smokers to quit altogether or switch to alternatives which, even according to the government, are significantly less harmful.”

According to MacGregor, “2030 feels like a realistic timeframe” to stop selling cigarettes in the UK because Britain could be completely 'smoke-free' by then.

Forest's response, published in full, read:

“We welcome the new generation of harm reduction products but it's delusional to think that everyone will have stopped smoking by 2030.

"Millions of people smoke not because they're addicted but because they enjoy it. That fundamental fact isn't going to change over the next twelve years.

"The key to this is choice. Give consumers a choice of combustible and non-combustible products and as the technology improves an increasing number will choose the less harmful option.

"But if adults choose to smoke in full knowledge of the health risks that decision must be respected. No-one should be forced to quit because of excessive regulations, punitive taxation or prohibition.

"If Philip Morris want to stop selling cigarettes that's up to them but people will still smoke, and if combustible products can't be purchased through legitimate retailers the black market will supply them."

Funnily enough, Mark MacGregor and I go back a long way. We first met over 35 years ago when a mutual friend, Brian Monteith, introduced us.

Brian and Mark were leading members of the Federation of Conservative Students and I edited a student newspaper called Campus.

Later, all three of us worked for a PR company founded by Michael (now Lord) Forsyth, but not at the same time.

Now, decades later, our paths have crossed again. It really is a small world.

Article originally appeared on Simon Clark (http://taking-liberties.squarespace.com/).
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