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Was that it? Smoke-Free Index fails to ignite media interest

On Sunday I had a convivial chat with a woman from the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World.

Talking over dinner I was led to understand there would be a ‘MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT’ at the Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum that took place in London this week.

I was also told that her boss, Derek Yach, who was addressing the conference, was going to be featured in the Guardian on Thursday.

I was intrigued. What could this ‘major announcement’ be? After all, what could possibly top last year’s coup when, on the eve of GTNF 2017 in New York, Yach announced he was launching the Foundation for a Smoke Free World with Philip Morris International committing $1 billion to the project over twelve years?

I racked my brain and eagerly anticipated what the great man might say to capture the media’s attention.

Sad to report, Derek Yach’s ‘major announcement’ was a complete damp squib. All it amounted to was a proposal for a ‘Smoke-Free Index’ that will monitor the industry’s progress towards a ‘smoke-free’ world.

Big deal.

You can read the press release here but check out the vainglorious headline (and copyright symbol):

Foundation for a Smoke-Free World to Impact Tobacco Industry and Nicotine Ecosystem and Drive Change Through the Smoke-Free Index©

In the event not even the Guardian could be persuaded that the Smoke-Free Index© initiative was newsworthy.

The fact that the Foundation considered it a ‘major announcement’ suggests an almost delusional degree of self-importance.

Who does Yach think he is - Michael Bloomberg?

I do wonder what PMI’s competitors think of the company funding a body that intends to hold their feet to the fire, forever monitoring their activities in the name of some ‘smoke-free’ utopia.

I wonder too if by committing a billion dollars to the Foundation, PMI has created an albatross that could seriously embarrass both the company and its investors in the years ahead.

For example, if their public statements are anything to go by, senior PMI executives clearly think their company is leading the race towards a ‘better’, smoke-free future.

They boast that they are disrupting not just the industry but their own company.

But what happens if and when PMI lags behind some of its rivals? (Talk is cheap and actions speak louder than words.) Will the Foundation’s Smoke-Free Index point the finger at the company that is bankrolling it?

If it is to maintain any credibility it will have to and PMI will have to suck it up because the company has committed to giving the Foundation $80 million a year until 2029. (Imagine the outcry if they abandoned the project before that date.)

Meanwhile other leading tobacco companies - all of whom are engaged in selling and developing risk reduction products and have no reason to bow to PMI - face having their activities publicly analysed by a body funded exclusively by one of their major global rivals.

Anyway, in a perfect piece of scheduling, Derek Yach was followed on to the GTNF stage by Peter Nixon, MD of Philip Morris UK.

A self-confessed ‘salesman’, Nixon gave an assured, polished performance. If nothing else, he and his media team are masters of the art of the soundbite, as these subsequent tweets illustrate:

Sadly, and perhaps inevitably, there was no opportunity to ask questions of either Nixon or Yach which would have been nice.

The good news is that while Philip Morris may have abandoned consumers who want to smoke, other tobacco companies haven’t.

Another keynote speaker at GTNF was Suzanne Wise, senior vice president of corporate development of JTI.

On Thursday, following an interview on Sky News, JTI tweeted:

Well said.

Update: The Guardian did run a story from GTNF but it was inspired not by Derek Yach but by another New York based speaker:

Addressing a 300-strong audience of tobacco and vaping industry representatives, Helen Redmond, an expert in substance use at New York University’s Silver School of Social Work, said people in poor countries should not be priced out of nicotine-based products that could potentially help them to quit smoking.

Redmond compared the medicinal qualities of nicotine with cannabis and stressed “the need to get vaping to the poorest, who need it most”.

“It’s a human rights issue – as a harm reduction device, prices need to come down,” she said. “Nicotine is not a dirty drug, it helps with depression and anxiety.”

See: Affordable vaping for smokers in poor countries branded 'a human rights issue' (Guardian)

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Reader Comments (3)

PMI has clearly been taken over by antismokers so what happens to the company is a win-win for them. Either the company fails to meet the target for booting smokers out of society or it achieves it by its set date.

If it fails, the anti smoker industry can attack it again as a liar and a cheat, and if it succeeds then the dirty filthy smokers it produced are gone at least out of sight and out of mind in the underground.

Antismoker PMI can then push people to use it's toy and then the antis can begin to attack the vapers for supporting the so called Big Tobacco industry.

Anyone who cares about smokers rights, freedom of choice and takes a stand against bullying should stop buying PMI products, stop funding the anti smoker industry and stop shafting fellow smokers.

There are many more HNB, vaping and tobacco products out there. There is no need for any of us to use PMI products in the 21st century.

Saturday, September 15, 2018 at 14:02 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse

It may just be me, but is Philip Morris turning into the tobacco equivalent of Suntory, ie, removing products that the market wishes to continue buying/using? If so, PMI should look at Ribena and Lucozade. Things aren't going so well for them it seems.
They should do what BAT, JTI and the others are doing and follow the Coca-Cola model, ie, cater for users of traditional products and cater for users of novel products.

Saturday, September 15, 2018 at 16:14 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew O'Dowd

PMI has been captured by antismokers. They know that tobacco control's extreme anti-tobacco propaganda consists of lies and exaggerations, yet rather than fighting back they joined the opposition in establishing the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World. Co-option is the only viable reason to betray and persecute their customers and destroy their own business.

Saturday, September 15, 2018 at 19:15 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

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