Reuters India investigation: Philip Morris definitely targeting young people

Interesting read here for my Indian readers on how India is threatening to crack down against Philip Morris International with some kind of “punitive action” for violating that country’s anti-tobacco laws prohibiting marketing cigarettes to minors.

The Indian Healthy Ministry sent a warning letter to PMI after a Reuters investigation this summer dug up secret memos from the company about how to market cigarettes to young adults, including using conveniently located advertising kiosks and through promotional giveaways. Reuters is making a big deal out of this and has even set up a website where you can peruse reams of Philip Morris International internal documents.

That investigation also found that PMI has a deeply entrenched strategy of trying to undermine what’s known as the Framework for Tobacco Control, a multi-nation treaty to try and curb tobacco’s influence in the developing world. That’s a whole another imbroglio I need to look into.

From the Reuters investigation:

… Indian government officials say Philip Morris is using methods that flout the nation’s tobacco-control regulations. These include tobacco shop displays as well as the free distribution of Marlboro – the world’s best-selling cigarette brand – at nightclubs and bars frequented by young people.

In internal documents, Philip Morris International is explicit about targeting the country’s youth. A key goal is “winning the hearts and minds of LA-24,” those between legal age, 18, and 24, according to one slide in a 2015 commercial review presentation.

As with the point-of-sale ads at kiosks, public health officials say that giving away cigarettes is a violation of India’s Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act and its accompanying rules.

Philip Morris’ marketing strategy for India, which relies heavily on kiosk advertising and social events, is laid out in hundreds of pages of internal documents reviewed by Reuters that cover the period from 2009 to 2016. In them, Philip Morris presents these promotions as key marketing activities. In recent years, they have helped to more than quadruple Marlboro’s market share in India, where the company is battling to expand its reach in the face of an entrenched local giant. Reuters is publishing a selection of those documents in a searchable repository, The Philip Morris Files.

The company’s goal is to make sure that “every adult Indian smoker should be able to buy Marlboro within walking distance,” according to another 2015 strategy document.

PMI has been told repeatedly to remove the outside advertising at these kiosks, but enforcement in India is weak. The giveaways take place at social events with women dressed colourfully in the brand colours of different kinds of Marlboros.

Pretty sleazy huh? PMI is clearly looking for every tiny little loophole in the laws it can find, it appears.

India is a HUGELY important market for Big Tobacco, because smoking rates in the West are in steep decline, while China strictly controls tobacco sales as a state enterprise. That leaves … ta da! … India with its 1.3 billion people as the biggest available new market in the world (along with the Philippines and Indonesia). Big Tobacco is literally drooling over these markets, and the Indian government has a big fight on their hands to keep PMI and other international companies at bay.

 

 

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