PMI & the Foundation it funds

29 March 2018:

Philip Morris International (PMI) has claimed it is going smoke-free and launched a new product range referred to as iQOS, which is heated tobacco product. In 2017, PMI committed about US$1 billion ($960 million) towards a new organization, Foundation for Smoke-free Word (the Foundation) which seeks to end smoking and claims to be fully independent of PMI.

In essence, the Foundation promotes the use of e-cigarettes (ENDS) and heated tobacco products through research and opinion on harm reduction. This is like the two sides of the same coin – one side promotes the research and public opinion while the flip-side offers the products and makes the profits. No wonder PMI is so willing to invest the astronomical $960million over 12 years – big money needed to build academic research and shape public opinion.

Since the Foundation came into being it has fiercely defended its independence from PI and has even condemned the tobacco industry on a few occasions. However for all its rhetoric about going smoke-free and saving lives, it has been careful not to request its financier to take responsibility and stop selling the harmful product it condemns. That could be because both PMI and the Foundation appear entwined towards the same goal – promote e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products.

In the table below we provide a comparison between what PMI is telling investors and what the foundation has been telling the public through blog articles, press statements and regular tweets. The PMI quotes are taken from its powerpoint presentation on 21 February 2018 to the Consumer Analyst Group of New York. [Please refer to slides 19-20 and the script]

Philip Morris International Foundation for Smoke-free Wold

“Switching to smoke-free products is a better choice than continuing to smoke”

“We are not saying that RRPs are safe or a perfect solution. We are saying that switching to smoke-free products is a better choice than continuing to smoke, and that switching completely is likely to yield significant benefits over time.”

“[T]here is a growing body of evidence on the extent to which they could cut future death and diseases. Millions of people now use these products. …e-cigarettes in the UK, European Union and the USA, and heat-not-burn products in Japan.” Ref: Derek Yach
2 Adult smokers should have access to accurate information about better alternatives

“We have not fully involved smokers in the debate around policy formulation and implementation. Health services are not tuned to best assist smokers who want to quit.” Ref: Ehsan Latif

“Through the #StateofSmoking survey, we aimed to understand smokers’ experiences and challenges, probe awareness of smoking and health impacts, and assess perceptions of risk and influence on choices.” Ref: Derek Yachtweet on 27 March 2018

3 “Growing acceptance of the decreasing risk continuum for tobacco and other nicotine-containing products, stated by the FDA, Public Health England, The European Union and others” “Important move towards placing evidence and science above emotion and popularism.@NHSEngland and @PHE_uk lead the world in doing this.” Derek Yach’s tweet on 13 March 2018
4 “Not all tobacco and other nicotine-containing products are the same from a risk perspective”

“We need to better inform smokers about the relative risks of different products.”

Ref: Derek Yach tweet on 17 March 2018

5 “Not all regulatory and fiscal rules that apply to cigarettes are relevant and justified for RRPs” (reduced risk products) “We’re closely following this harm reduction policy shift in Russia: the government is considering easing regulation on e-cigs vs. traditional tobacco.” Ref: Derek Yach tweet on 24 March 2018
6 “Smokers deserve policy choices that respect them and their ability to decide” “Less than 10% of smokers who try to quit on their own succeed. Listen to some of the stories of real people fighting to live without cigarettes and join us as we champion the development of better solutions to reduce harm and achieve a smoke free world.” Ref: Derek Yach

Emotions and ideological rhetoric often fierce vs. tobacco: does not promote sound public policy or enable the public to understand important facts.

 And policies should be sensible, and based on principled pragmatism rather than influenced by ideology. 1.1 billion men and women who smoke cannot be held hostage to, and misled by, absolutism that foments nihilistic rhetoric. Otherwise the vision of a smoke-free world will be harder and take longer to materialize, to their detriment.

“There seems to be a disconnect between the development of policy and the benefit many smokers receive from policy. This, in my opinion, is due to a rigid attitude adopted by many tobacco control advocates, including myself.” Ref: Ehsan Latif

“There are organizations who, rather than joining forces to tackle this major health crisis in a collaborative, productive spirit, are choosing to oppose the Foundation and its goal of helping smokers quit by advancing the science of tobacco control.” Ref: Derek Yach

“…. with 1B lives at stake, tobacco control has an urgent responsibility to choose dialogue and collaboration over hostility.” Derek Yach’s tweeton 15 March 2018

8 NGOs and the news media should also apply due diligence so that they can communicate accurately Derek Yack retweets a vaping group’s tweet that labelled the Cancer Council Australia as “disgraceful” for not supporting vaping to reduce harm. Derek Yach’s retweet on 18 March 2018 

The congruity between the messages from the two sides are clear. The message of both the Foundation and PMI is that ENDS is only effective if it is available like any regular consumer product and that it should not be banned nor strictly regulated. 

Brunei, Cambodia, Singapore and Thailand have banned the sale of ENDS. These countries are also seeing declining smoking prevalence through their efforts in implementing the WHO FCTC. They should not be pressured to undo their legislation simply because a tobacco company wants to increase its profits by introducing more ENDS.

The reality is PMI continues to push its harmful regular cigarettes in developing countries such as Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand. In the same presentation to investors in New York, PMI also showcased its successful launch of Marlboro Filter Black in Indonesia: “Clearly, our combustible tobacco portfolio still contributes the lion’s share of our earnings and cash flow, so we continue to invest behind it judiciously.”

It is PMI and the Foundation who should stop the rhetoric about a smoke-free world. Surely a faster and more efficient route towards a some-free world is for tobacco companies to simply stop selling cigarettes.