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« Shameful - hospital targets smokers with tannoy and children’s voices | Main | Time to find another nanny »

Philip Morris: why 'smoke-free' is the sensible way to go

Two weeks ago Forest hosted a fringe meeting at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham.

Subject of the discussion was 'Should smoking be consigned to history?'.

Chaired by Claire Fox, director of the Academy of Ideas (which has just held its annual Battle of Ideas at the Barbican), the panellists were me, investment analyst Rae Maile, Chris Snowdon, head of the Lifestyle Economics Unit at the Institute of Economic Affairs, and Mark MacGregor, head of corporate affairs at Philip Morris UK.

The video above features Mark's contribution to the discussion, unedited, including his response to one or two questions from the audience. It’s worth watching, I think, if you want to know more about the thinking that lies behind the company's current strategy.

Other opinions were available too and some of the most interesting points - because the views of tobacco analysts are rarely heard in public - came from Rae Maile.

To hear the full debate (audio only) click here. It’s a long listen (75 minutes) so here are a few soundbites:

Mark MacGregor, Philip Morris:

"It feels to me that technology has finally arrived in the tobacco sector ... The development of e-cigarettes and other innovative products that are coming online now, they feel as if they are a way of allowing smokers to have access to products that provide them with nicotine but without the harm.

"We believe we have a role to play in helping to convert smokers to one of our alternative products ... It doesn't mean that we're in favour of people being banned from smoking. If people want to smoke it's completely up to them, but it feels like, for our business at least, that's the sensible way to go."

Simon Clark, Forest:

"PMI have shown a huge amount of arrogance in the last twelve, 18 months with some of their statements. Putting a billion dollars into an organisation that's called the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World [is] a real kick in the teeth for consumers, many of whom enjoy smoking and get a great deal of pleasure from smoking.

"People have been smoking since 5000BC. The manufactured cigarette came along in the late 19th century ... so I think it's quite wrong for Philip Morris to say everybody should give up smoking and switch to our new product ... If people want to switch, if people want to quit, that's fine. But there are millions of people who enjoy smoking and that must be respected."

Rae Maile, investment analyst:

"I am particularly concerned at the approach that Philip Morris has used in trying to open a debate with regulators, with the health lobby, about this desire to move rapidly to a smoke-free future because customers have been, for 40, 50 years, increasingly under the cosh of ever higher taxation, ever more vitriolic messages, from public health about how stupid they are to carry on smoking.

"They have loyally bought the products of these companies and now you've got the largest of them saying, 'Well, actually, we kind of agree and we don't think you should smoke either.' And I think that's wrong ... That disrespect shown to the customer is absolutely wrong in a fast moving consumer goods industry."

Chris Snowdon, IEA:

"If you've got something that's been consumed very happily by many people for thousands of years, the idea that it's going to disappear is quite implausible, and there is a very good reason why the cigarette has been fantastically popular for 100 years.

"It's an extremely efficient and pleasurable nicotine delivery device so I don't think it will be consigned to history in our lifetimes but, more importantly, I don't think it should be so long as there's anybody in the world who wants to smoke."

Frankly, a discussion like this would have been better suited to the Global Forum on Nicotine, the Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum or even the E-Cigarette Summit.

Sadly the organisers of those and other nicotine-related conferences appear disinterested in having any debate or discussion that questions the current public health orthodoxy that smoking should be eradicated and consigned to history.

Therefore, much as I disagree strongly with PMI targeting a 'smoke free' world, fair play to the company for at least engaging with us when invited to do so. As Claire Fox noted in her closing comments:

"Particular credit to Mark and Philip Morris for actually participating because if you're going to take this bold move then I think you have to be accountable for it and I think he was and he really explained the case very well in terms of what the strategy is, even if I personally don't agree with it."

I'll second that.

PS. I'll post clips of the other speakers later in the week.

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Reader Comments (3)

PMI looks like it has been captured by anti-smoking extremists or opportunists looking to profit from a disruptive technology. PMI is abandoning their long-standing customers in pursuit of raw profit. They should know the anti-smoking rhetoric has been greatly exaggerated by a small cadre of dedicated extremists. Rather than support their customers they join those that persecute them. More proof that tobacco control must be destroyed.

Monday, October 15, 2018 at 18:01 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

It's all about forcing us, or converting us to use the softer language of PMI, but it amounts to the same if the company does not respect its core consumers and aims to stop making tobacco. That it thinks we are pawns to push around is just insulting. It clearly knows more about anti smokers than smokers.

PMI should be honest and say they are going into the vaping market, there are not enough vapers yet to make the profits PMI wants and in its arrogance, it thinks it can the join the anti smoker bandwagon and force smokers to quit or convert and lose no business.

I am very happy to help PMI go "smoke free"now. I have already stopped buying its products. Other smokers will no doubt do the same as time goes on so what next? Tobacco giants getting together to force us all to quit or convert? There is always grow your own for those of us who don't just think of smoking as a lifestyle but a hobby too.

Monday, October 15, 2018 at 18:28 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse

I enjoyed this report and the opinions expressed. Thanks Simon.

Friday, October 19, 2018 at 11:57 | Unregistered CommenterAudrey Silk

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