Philip Morris responds to accusations of “staggering hypocrisy”
Friday, November 9, 2018 at 9:11
Simon Clark

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’:

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:


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:

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.

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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