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Going Underground

Representatives of the leading tobacco companies, including Philip Morris International, are gathering in Washington DC this week for the annual Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum.

Meanwhile, back in London, a sharp-eyed commuter saw this advertisement on an Underground train.

‘Why do you smoke?’ it asks. Without waiting for an answer it declares, in big bold letters:


Look closely and you’ll also see, at the bottom of the ad:

Production by Change Incorporated (VICE) for its Quit Cigarettes initiative. Philip Morris International funds this initiative but has no editorial input, so may not share the views expressed.

Pull the other one. The relentless anti-smoking messages spewing from the Change Incorporated website are entirely in keeping with PMI’s current strategy.

Likewise the message in this ad (‘Why do you smoke? Your reasons aren’t good enough’) is remarkably similar to a comment by Peter Nixon, MD of Philip Morris UK, first made in the Independent in August 2018 and repeated earlier this year.

Appearing live on Good Morning Britain (ITV), Nixon declared, “There's no reason why people should smoke anymore.”

What I and others find so offensive is the way Change Incorporated targets every aspect of smoking, not just health. The aim, it seems, is to belittle both the habit and the smoker in the hope they will quit - or be ‘encouraged’ to quit by friends and family.

I wrote about the initiative in July (‘My brush with Vice and its help to quit smoking project, Change Incorporated’) highlighting some of the articles. At that point they included:

It Broke My Heart to Watch Them Die
Are Festivals Doing Enough to Phase Out Smoking?
Can You Really Cough Up Your Lungs?
How Smoking Increases Chances of Genital Warts
This Is How Smoking Makes Your Penis Shrink
How Smoking is Ruining Your Sex Life
Is Smoking a Deal-Breaker on Tinder?

Current headlines include:

How Cigarettes Blight British Seaside Towns
Why It’s Time to Ban Smoking in Airports For Good

Ironically there’s even an article with the headline, ‘Are You Being Bullied Into Smoking Cigarettes?

A more pertinent question might be, ‘Are You Being Bullied Into Quitting Cigarettes?’ because for many people the answer is an emphatic ‘yes’.

I’ve seen worse (‘If You Smoke, You Stink’ comes to mind) but ads such as the one on the Tube would certainly be on my list of exhibits.

Note the bullying, hectoring tone:


Philip Morris will no doubt continue to assert the ‘editorial independence’ of Change Incorporated but let’s be honest.

When Change Incorporated (VICE) pitched the initiative to them, the company must have had a pretty good idea of what they would be getting in exchange for a reported $5 million.

I dare say there are Philip Morris executives who think campaigns like this are pretty cool and edgy. I’m not the target audience so they may be right.

What I do know is that campaigns that deliberately undermine your core product, and treat loyal consumers as if they are idiots, are unlikely to end well.

It also begs the question: is there another example of a company that has done so much to try to alienate its customers?

PS. Readers may recall that I was contacted several months ago by a ‘casting director’ who said she was ‘working on a series of short films for Change Incorporated ... which follows the journey of comedians who want to quit smoking’.

(See My brush with VICE and its help to quit smoking project.)

She wondered if someone from Forest ‘might be interested in chatting with one of our comedians (on film) about your views around smoking?’

A few days later, having expressed interest, I got a call from someone else who was working on the same project. I explained Forest’s position (ie we defend adults who smoke) and mentioned some of the reservations I had about the Change Incorporated project.

Needless to say, I heard nothing more. Then, a couple of weeks ago, we received a further, unconnected, email:

Hello, I hope this finds you well. I am a Casting Producer working with [name of independent production company]. I am contacting you regarding some filming for Change Incorporated, a new, purpose-driven media company owned by VICE.

We are casting for 3 x expert panelists to take part in a filmed, ‘pub-style’ debate, discussing government plans to make Britain Smoke Free by 2030. This will be a filmed 2-3 hour debate, with questions and discussion, hosted by TV presenter Cherry Healey. 

The debate is taking place in London on Weds 2nd Oct, to coincide with Stoptober. It will be an evening event with invitees of up to 30-50 people. 

We are looking for a panel of industry experts who can talk about the government paper with gravitas, e.g smoking cessation and healthcare experts.

Main debate/discussion themes:
1. How do we make Britain Smoke Free by 2030
2. How could a no-deal Brexit harm this objective?

Each panelist will be paid a fee of £500-750 for their contribution. 

The final film will be approx. 3-5 minutes and the content will sit on the Change Incorporated website. Change Incorporated aims to create measurable social change on some of society’s biggest issues that are important to VICE’s audience and the first mission is to get the UK to Quit Cigarettes. 

Quit Cigarettes is an initiative created by Change Incorporated (VICE) and funded by Philip Morris International. Whilst the mission itself is funded, VICE maintains editorial control. 

I hope that this is of interest - please do let me know your thoughts.

So far I haven’t replied and they haven’t followed it up.

Update: Another Tube advertisement for the PMI-funded campaign.

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Reader Comments (6)

Anyone who buys products from PMI is helping to bully, abuse and harrass fellow smokers. If you vape or use HnB please find an alternative company to buy from that doesn't promote hatred against those now historic child smokers it was once sold cigarettes to - like myself at 8 years old when it also targeted me with adverts to promote child smoking.

The company showed is was immoral then and it is still immoral now. Stop funding it.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019 at 12:29 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

The corporate-government social control regime relies on relentless propaganda to impose its totalitarian imperatives. Tobacco control in its many guises is at the core of this oppressive regime. It's time to push back!

Tuesday, September 24, 2019 at 16:33 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

Given how slow-witted and prone to panic they are, let's all ring up ASH and complain that one of the world's largest cigarette companies is blatantly advertising in the UK - and on public property too.
Imagine all those tiny heads exploding until they check it out!

Tuesday, September 24, 2019 at 19:59 | Unregistered CommenterManx Gent

“Not good enough reasons” for who, exactly? They’re good enough for me and, as I’m the one making the decision to smoke or otherwise, ergo those reasons must be “good enough” or I wouldn’t be doing it!

Just because a bunch of people who have never met me, don’t know me, who hold opinions which seem to be diametrically opposed to mine in every way, and in any case have, it seems, a quasi-religious fear of a bit of burning leaf influencing their every move, believe that those reasons are not “good enough” is, to all intents and purposes, irrelevant, because even if those “reasons” were the very best or the very worst in the whole wide world, it isn’t those people making the decision to smoke or otherwise based upon them – it’s me.

There – matter settled. I've got my reasons and - yes - they are good enough!

Wednesday, September 25, 2019 at 0:56 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

I have my reasons to boycott all PMI products Misty and you are right - my reasons are good enough too.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019 at 11:27 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

Rothmans in Canada is ding the same thing.

Monday, October 7, 2019 at 20:57 | Unregistered CommenterLynda

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