Philip Morris International getting out of the tobacco business? Huh, what now?

Philip Morris International this week made the somewhat shocking announcement that it plans to abandon tobacco altogether as its “New Year’s Resolution” and will focus on “electronic alternatives,” (Apparently, that means e-cigarettes).

This pronouncement raised some serious eyebrows … and skepticism. PMI (a separate entity from Altria, which owns tobacco brands in the U.S.) is a huge player on the worldwide tobacco market. PMI went so far as to create a website: smokefreefuture.co.uk  where people can get information on quitting smoking. And by the way, you can only click on that link if you live outside the U.S. I guess they don’t want to help Americans quit smoking.

Sounds all well and good, right? Well, noooot so fast.

First of all, PMI, the company that sold its customers the disease, is now selling them the cure — e-cigarettes. And in its “we’re quitting tobacco” campaign, the company is pushing its e-cigarette products. So, this appears to be an attempt at simply promoting its e-cigarette brands.

Secondly, if PMI is getting out of the tobacco business, why is the company still fighting plain packaging laws and other restrictions on tobacco marketing worldwide.

From a Daily Mail article:

The Truth Initiative argues that if it were seriously anti-smoking now, PMI would cease sales and production of cigarettes altogether, but evidence suggests that the company may not be in such a hurry to make that happen.

Beginning in July, Reuters published a series of PMI documents that reveal the company’s correspondences and meetings with delegates from various countries, in secret efforts to undermine the World Health Organization’s global anti-smoking Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

Thirdly,  there appears to be zero timetable for dropping out of the tobacco business. As Truth Initiative points out, last year, PMI sold 565.5 billion cigarettes. They aren’t getting out anytime soon.

From the Fortune commentary, written by Matthew Myers, head of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids:

These ads should have run on April Fools’ Day instead.

It is the height of hypocrisy for PMI to proclaim that it is helping solve the tobacco problem while it aggressively markets cigarettes—especially in low- and middle-income countries—and fights proven policies to reduce tobacco use and save lives. This advertising campaign should be seen for what it is: an effort to divert attention from the fact that PMI remains a primary cause of the smoking problem, not the solution.

Not surprisingly, PMI set no deadline for actually giving up cigarettes. If the company is truly committed to a smoke-free future, it should actively support the proven policies to reduce smoking that are endorsed by an international public health treaty, the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. These include significant tobacco tax increases, comprehensive smoke-free laws, tobacco advertising bans, and graphic health warnings on cigarette packs. These policies apply equally to all tobacco companies, and supporting them would not put PMI at a competitive disadvantage.

Instead, the company has led the fight against these policies around the world. A 2017 investigative report by Reuters revealed a massive, secret PMI campaign aimed at “bringing to heel the world’s tobacco control treaty.” From Australia to Uruguay to Thailand, the corporation has filed expensive lawsuits that challenge strong tobacco control laws and seek to intimidate other countries into inaction.

PMI’s latest claims are no more credible. Until the company stops marketing cigarettes and fighting efforts to reduce smoking, its claimed commitment to a smoke-free future should be seen as another public relations stunt, not a serious effort to reduce the death and disease caused by its products.

So, it certainly seems PMI is simply blowing smoke. And not really fooling very many people, either.

 

 

 

 

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