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« Money, money, money | Main | Points of view »

Zero sum game

Gotta love Philip Morris.

Hardly a week goes by without some new announcement or initiative designed to bolster the idea that smoking is about to be consigned to history.

Today the company that wants to stop selling cigarettes in England by 2030 - the year Public Health England also hopes England will be ‘smoke free’ with fewer than five per cent of the population smoking - has released research that claims that one city, Bristol, could have ZERO smokers in just six years.

It’s nonsense, of course.

Nevertheless, according to the Daily Mail:

The research is based on a current smoking rate of 11.14 per cent of people in Bristol. The number of smokers in Bristol fell by 9.95 percentage points between 2011 and 2017, so the figure is based on current trends continuing.

Assuming that current trends will continue is hugely problematic, of course, and probably unrealistic.

After all, while there was a significant fall in smoking rates between 2012 and 2016 it just happened to coincide with a sharp increase in the number of smokers switching to e-cigarettes.

But that seems to have stalled with the number of people who vape falling from a peak of 2.9m to 2.8m (according to the latest figures).

Also, if the option of e-cigarettes combined with the smoking ban, display ban, plain packaging and punitive taxation haven’t persuaded almost one in six adults to quit, it’s hard to see that figure dropping below five or even ten per cent any time soon.

Indeed, according to the same research, at current rates the country as a whole won’t kick the habit until 2050.

Anyway, I look forward to hearing what Peter Nixon, MD of Philip Morris UK, has to say at the Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum that begins in London tonight and continues on Wednesday and Thursday.

He’s one of the keynote speakers and I hope he will repeat his company’s commitment to stop selling cigarettes in the UK within 12 years.

The announcement attracted a lot of headlines but, as someone pointed out to me the other day, it’s hardly very brave to announce that your company intends to stop selling cigarettes in a country in which your market share is a fraction of your competitors who have far more to lose.

A declaration that PMI would like to stop selling cigarettes within twelve years in regions where they are market leaders for combustible tobacco would be far more impressive but I doubt if that will happen.

Meanwhile I will continue my search for someone who uses iQOS, the heat-not-burn device that Philip Morris wants smokers to use instead of combustible cigarettes.

As readers know, based on consumer feedback I’m favourably impressed with iQOS. However, it’s almost impossible to find anyone who uses it in the UK. Believe me, I’ve tried.

A few weeks ago I even contacted PM to ask if they could suggest one or two people in the Westminster village who use the product and they couldn’t come up with a single name!

(I’m aware, btw, that Mark Littlewood, director-general of the IEA, is an occasional user of iQOS, but he’s unavailable for the event we’ll be announcing shortly).

Frankly, this doesn’t bode well if Philip Morris wants every smoker in England to quit or switch to iQOS within the next 12 years.

If ‘current trends’ continue they may have to revise that target.

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Reader Comments (7)

It’s actually Altria, rather than PM, which is the US leader but your point still stands. PM hopes to use Altria to commercialise iQOS in the US; I think that partnership might be quite severely strained if PM required Altria to stop selling combustibles as part of the arrangement.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018 at 9:51 | Unregistered CommenterJon Fell

Personally, I think PMI are shooting themselves in the foot by abandoning their core customers - the smokers. Smoking will never completely disappear, prevalence may be greatly reduced (after all, isn't 5% the 'target' for "smoke-free"?) but it'll never disappear.

The problem with predicting targets based on trends is that trends can - and very often do - miss the point entirely. After all, didn't 'public health' suggest that the smoking prevalence would be sub-15% by now with the raft of daft policies which fritter at the edges?

Just FYI, I have an IQOS - two in fact - and, for a vaper, I rather enjoyed using it. I do still use it on occasion (when I have HEETS, which are roughly the same price as a pack of smokes, rather irritatingly - thought the idea of disruptive technology was that it was meant to, you know, disrupt the market?).

I'm rather fascinated by the whole heated-tobacco technology and will be watching developments in this area with great interest. I may even write about them from time to time.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018 at 10:03 | Unregistered CommenterPaul B

Like Tobacco Control, PMI will be creating a lot of angry people.

And if they really do manage to have "ZERO smokers in just six years" in Bristol that will be a lot of very angry ex-smokers living there.
It's one thing trying to persuade people into taking a certain course of action but people don't like having their personal autonomy taken away from them and will never, ever forget.

I think TC and government is aware of this, which is why they keep hitting us so hard in hopes of finally crushing our self esteem.

Deborah Arnott did warn about that.

Don't hate the smoker

"If smokers are marginalised in our society there is a danger that they will begin to see their habit as a badge of honour."

Tuesday, September 11, 2018 at 11:36 | Unregistered CommenterRose2

Thanks, Jon, you're right about Altria. I have edited the post accordingly.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018 at 11:44 | Unregistered CommenterSimon

Phillip Morris can stick it's toy. I use a HNB epipe ocassionally but wouldn't touch any product made by PMI because of its contempt for its consumers.. No one can tell the difference between tobacco being smoked or stinky e liquid so you can get away with smoking inside with vapers.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018 at 12:23 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse

Phillip Morris is making a major mistake. Marlboro is a major asset and a fine cigarette. I like many others enjoy smoking and don't intend to quit. Too bad Tareyton (now owned by RJR) is hard to find because "I'd rather fight than switch!"

Tuesday, September 11, 2018 at 19:31 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

Having read this earlier today, I have concluded that the title of this article is word perfect.
Making wild assumptions literally is a zero sum game. I understand that smoking is a contentious issue and seems to have been from day one, but Philip Morris is perhaps forgetting recent events and historical ones too.
Firstly, I remember back in May that statistics indicated that UK smoking rates had increased, albeit very slightly so perhaps it is too early to envisage a smoke free future for the time being.
Secondly, regardless of opinions on tobacco and smoking, the fact remains that it has survived numerous assaults over the centuries, from the Spanish Inquisition, King James I, Oliver Cromwell, various US bans in the 1920s, Nazi Germany and it continues survive the numerous restrictions placed on it to this day. I simply fail to see how both PMI and "Public Health" conclude that they are going to be the ones to succeed where other, far more authoritarian and sinister regimes have failed.
I also think that PMI will have to start making HNB products much more visible if it wants them to replace conventional cigarettes... over the last 18 months, I have seen IQOS being used by just three people, one in the UK and two in eastern Europe and I have only seen it sold in Manchester Airport. This is despite numerous adverts I have seen in both the UK and Germany and small card adverts in cigarette packs elsewhere. It is also worth remembering that Europe's (current) last bastion for smokers, Austria, does not currently sell HNB products (or certainly didn't when I last read into it).
Finally, it should be pointed out that trends can and do change and what is disliked by one generation may be more tolerated by others down the line. It has happened before so in short, perhaps PMI should be think and act very carefully before making the statements that it is currently making. I'm sure time will tell.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018 at 23:49 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew O'Dowd

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