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Friday
Nov092018

Philip Morris responds to accusations of “staggering hypocrisy”

Alison Cooper, chief executive of Imperial Brands, was interviewed on the Today programme on Tuesday.

Interviewer: You talk about making something better and safer for smokers. If you were that concerned about the health of smokers wouldn’t you just stop making cigarettes altogether?

Alison Cooper: I think in terms of the current cigarette smoking population, many of them very much enjoy smoking. We know it’s a controversial product but therefore it’s even more important that responsible companies still continue to deliver that product to smokers, so I see that being a very important part, still, of Imperial’s story, but at the same time we very much want to develop the vaper business, blu and myblu in particular, and really start seeing smokers switch more into those products.

The reference to "responsible companies" was interesting. What she meant, I think, is that only an irresponsible company would abandon smokers to the counterfeiters and criminal gangs who would inevitably step in to meet demand for combustible cigarettes with unregulated products.

I was pleased too to hear a Big Tobacco CEO acknowledge two indisputable facts – one, many smokers “very much enjoy smoking” and, two, cigarettes are still a “very important part” of the business.

It was a welcome change from the tone adopted by Philip Morris whose ambition is to stop selling cigarettes “as soon as possible”.

Talking of which, I was away when Philip Morris launched a new quit smoking campaign a couple of weeks ago so I haven’t written about it until now.

Taking its cue from Stoptober, which challenges smokers to quit smoking for 28 days, the Hold My Light campaign wants smokers to ‘Go smoke-free for 30 days’. Echoing Public Health England, the tobacco company funded website declares:

If you do it for a month, you’re five times more likely to do it for good. It introduces support from the people around you, which could increase your chance of succeeding.

Participants are given four options on how to go ‘smoke free’:

  • Quit smoking cigarettes
  • Quit with cessation products
  • Switch to e-cigarettes
  • Switch to heated tobacco

But here’s the twist. The campaign suggests that smokers should invite friends and family to support their efforts to stop smoking by making ‘commitments to help you stay motivated’.

Ideas include:

  • cooking you dinner every week for a month
  • looking after your pet when you’re on holiday
  • helping to redecorate your living room
  • go speed dating with you

Seriously?

The Hold My Light campaign was launched with a wraparound advertising feature in the Daily Mirror urging smokers to give up cigarettes.

Here are a handful of the many headlines it generated:

  • Tobacco firm campaign up in smoke as critics hit out (Scotsman)
  • Tobacco industry's stunt is unlikely to fool anyone (Daily Express)
  • Philip Morris accused of ‘staggering hypocrisy’ over anti-smoking ad (Irish Times)
  • ‘A staggering hypocrisy’: tobacco company slammed for telling UK smokers to quit (Huffington Post)
  • Marlboro-maker Philip Morris accused of 'PR puff' amid launch of £2m anti-smoking campaign (The Drum)

And here’s how our national broadcasters covered the story:

BBC News
One of the world's biggest tobacco firms, Philip Morris, has been accused of "staggering hypocrisy" over its new UK advert urging smokers to quit.

Sky News
Cigarette giant Philip Morris has drawn criticism after releasing a four-page anti-smoking advert.

Channel 4 News
One of the world's biggest tobacco firms, Philip Morris, has been accused of "staggering hypocrisy" over a new advertising campaign that urges smokers to quit.

BBC Radio Five Live
The tobacco company Philip Morris is defending a new campaign that encourages smokers to give up cigarettes. Includes comment from Hazel Cheeseman, ASH.

talkRADIO
Cigarette giant Philip Morris has been slammed as 'hypocritical' after releasing a four-page anti-smoking advert. Includes comment from Hazel Cheeseman, ASH.

LBC News
A tobacco firm is being accused of staggering hypocrisy over its campaign urging smokers to quit. Includes comment from Hazel Cheeseman from ASH.

As for local radio, here’s a summary of one of many reports:

Philip Morris, one of the world's biggest tobacco makers, has been accused of "staggering hypocrisy" over its new ad campaign that urges smokers to quit. Includes interview with Deborah Arnott, CEO of ASH.

This week, in what appears to be a damage limitation exercise, the company’s director of corporate affairs in the UK and Ireland has given an interview to Campaign magazine:

Mark MacGregor said he had been “surprised” by attacks from people and organisations that have said big tobacco should have no role in reducing smoking rates.

"It’s very naïve of people to think we’re just going to shut down our business," he said. "And if we’re not going to do that, it feels like the action we’ve taken is proof [of our intentions], whether people want to believe it or not.

"I take the view that large companies make commitments, and if you’ve made a huge one like this, you’ve got to start to deliver on that.

"One of the criticisms we’ve had before is that all we’ve had are words, not actions – well, running a campaign to persuade British smokers to quit feels like an action. I’d say to critics that we’re doing precisely what you’d expect a company with that ambition should do."

Regarding the pledge to stop selling cigarettes, MacGregor said he couldn't give a date when it would happen because it would depend 'not just on the proportion of its own sales that were coming from alternatives, but also the external context':

“Of course we could simply stop doing it tomorrow – but all that would happen is people would buy their cigarettes from someone else. So we’ve chosen a different path, which is in some ways more difficult."

You can read the full article here - Philip Morris exec defends quit-smoking campaign (Campaign).

To be clear, I fully support the efforts of Philip Morris and other tobacco companies to develop and promote reduced risk products.

The problem I have is that in actively pursuing an anti-smoking agenda - instead of a policy that puts choice (including the right to smoke) front and centre - Philip Morris is turning its back on millions of consumers who enjoy smoking and, even today, don’t want to quit.

As investment analyst Rae Maile put it at a fringe event organised by Forest at the Conservative conference in Birmingham last month:

“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."

I couldn’t agree more. And that’s why we don’t hear the same accusations of hypocrisy thrown at other tobacco companies.

Likewise the industry funded VApril campaign avoided a similar backlash because it too managed to promote vaping without being overtly anti-smoking.

There was one misstep (which I highlighted here) but overall, and to its credit, the campaign seemed to put choice and education above cheap anti-smoking rhetoric.

Finally, if Mark MacGregor’s name seems familiar to you it’s because he was one of four panellists at that Forest event in Birmingham. The subject was 'Should smoking be consigned to history?' and I wrote about it here.

Click on the link and you'll also find a video of Mark's contribution.

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Reader Comments (5)

Such absolutely moronic suggestions on how to quit shows that PMI has been taken over by antismokers who just do not know nor care what smokers think.

They appear to have taken a leaf out of public health's book in separating smokers from their families and forcing them to quit by nagging and emotional blackmail.

I do not understand why anyone buys their products. If you want to vape then buy from a company that doesn't treat your fellow smokers as stupid but rather treats them with respect.

There is no reason in the 21st century, with so much choice on offer, for smokers to have to buy anything from PMI. Help them achieve their wish to stop selling cigarettes by stopping buying them and instead, if you wish, buy vape products from any one of the many different companies now out there looking to convert smokers to toys.

Friday, November 9, 2018 at 12:45 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse

PMI has been captured by antismokers. Coercing people to quit smoking is abusive and results in persecuting smokers in the name of an ideology and profit. It's time for smokers to fight for choice rather than switch.

Friday, November 9, 2018 at 17:43 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

That list of “help” from supporters is actually quite funny. What an odd selection of things to suggest! It certainly shows the disconnect between the people urging smokers to quit and the smokers they are hoping to persuade to do so. Really, what were their marketing team thinking of when they started down this road? Their thoughts must have been along the lines of: “OK, so we want to persuade smokers to stop buying cigarettes and start using our gadgets instead. Who can we get to advise us on this campaign? Oh, I know – let’s ask a bunch of people who aren’t interested in what smokers think, don’t mix or associate with smokers if they can possibly help it and who point-blank refuse to even enter into meaningful discussion with any smoker, ever, under any circumstances in case they hear something they don’t like! Yep, that’ll work.” It’s like recruiting a bunch of uninsured don’t-care boy-racers to advise on a campaign to urge people to buy more car insurance! As well as inviting un-knowledgeable non-smokers into their camp, PM would appear to have taken leave of their corporate senses. Hmmm. Perhaps the two are connected ......

Oh, and Simon, wasn't "staggering hypocrisy" originally coined by you at the outset of this nasty, disloyal little campaign? In which case, well done! Looks like the papers not only like it, but feel it sums PM up accurately enough for several of them to have quoted it!

Saturday, November 10, 2018 at 2:42 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

It seems CRUK is starting to catch up with reality.
They have revised their figure of 4 out of five lung cancers "caused" by smoking down to 7 out of 10.

"Smoking causes around 7 in 10 lung cancer cases in the UK. Lung cancer survival is one of the lowest of all cancers, and is the most common cause of cancer death in the UK."here

before it was
Smoking causes more than 4 in 5 cases of lung cancer. Lung cancer survival is one of the lowest of all cancers, and is the most common cause of cancer death in the UKhere

So smokers are not 10 or 20 times more likely to get lung cancer they have about a threefold risk. Now all CRUCK has to do is to realise that non-smokers and light smokers are two to three times more likely to have primary lung cancer diagnosed as secondry lung cancer and then , perhaps CRUCK will finally be able to work out why millions of people giving up smoking over decades has not made any impact on global lung cancer trends. The sooner they figure this out the sooner millions of non smokers and light smokers will start getting the right treatment for the right disease.

So when it says on cigarette packets that smoking cause 9 out of 10 lung cancers , even CRUCK disagrees. And yet this information is still on packets misleading millions of consumers every day. What a disgrace.

Saturday, November 10, 2018 at 19:08 | Unregistered CommenterFredrik Eich

FWIW, on Quora someone from the BBC asked for opinions on PM,s strategy. This was my response:

"They've been infested with political correctness. And they've made a marketing bet that their heat not burn gizmo—sychophantically called IQOS ( a cute acronym for I Quit Ordinary Smoking) will, by the sheer cuteness of its name, be able to pass nanny government muster and provide them with a future, given their other marketing bet that government will eventually either outlaw cigarettes or, through increasing taxation, make them too expensive to sustain a mass market, not to mention make it too hard to find a place to legally smoke them.

In other words, it's a policy of "if you can't lick em, join em." And so they've joined the Anti-tobaccoists who seem to have taken over not only the government agencies but the legislatures at all (state and local) levels who seem to vie with each other over who can think of more taxes and bans to impose. However—I think they may well be outsmarting themselves. The government will continue to come down hard on anything that either contains nicotine or, as in the case of vaping, just looks like smoking (with or without the nicotine) and IQOS will have a hard row to hoe (and that's to whatever extent smokers find them as enjoyable as Marlboros).

it occurs to me that, ironically, they'd likely have a better future in manufacturing pre-rolled joints."

Sunday, November 11, 2018 at 23:37 | Unregistered CommenterWaltC

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