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Philip Morris under fire for “disgraceful PR stunt”

21 July 2018:

The Guardian reports Philip Morris International (PMI) has been accused of staging “a disgraceful PR stunt” by offering to help UK’s National Health Service (NHS) staff quit smoking to mark the service’s 70th birthday. PMI is under fire for breaching WHO FCTC Article 5.3 guidelines for wanting to collaborate with the government on an anti-smoking programme.

The UK Health Ministry has responded swiftly with a warning to PMI. The government abides by Article 5.3 guidelines: “Parties should not accept, support or endorse partnerships and non-binding or non-enforceable agreements as well as any voluntary arrangement with the tobacco industry or any entity or person working to further its interests.”

This is part of PMI’s new revamped public posture that it is going smoke-free because smoking is now harmful. Hence it is offering a non-combustible tobacco product, heated tobacco, marketed as IQOS. However, IQOS is still a tobacco product and not harmless.

According to the WHO, there is no evidence to demonstrate that heated tobacco products (HTP) are less harmful than regular cigarettes. Tobacco is inherently toxic and contains carcinogens even in its natural form. All forms of tobacco are harmful, including HTP.

PMI was supplying newsagents across Britain with window posters promoting new IQOS tobacco heaters as a healthier alternative to cigarettes. Public Health England has warned that more research is needed to establish its health implications.

The UK public health minister responded to PMI’s offer by warning that the department was prepared to take legal action against Phillip Morris in order to protect consumers from being targeted by the adverts.

According to the president of the UK Royal College of Physicians (RCP), “The best way Philip Morris could help people stop smoking is to stop making cigarettes altogether.”

The RCP is not the only body to call on PMI to end making cigarettes altogether. About a year ago, in May 2017, the Danish Institute of Human Rights also issued a similar call to PMI to “Stop production & marketing of tobacco”.

PMI has been promoting its investments in heated tobacco products referring to them as ‘reduced risk products’ (RRP). According to its 2018 forecast, PMI will be spending about $600 million on RRP.

In Malaysia in September 2017, PMI announced it has invested US$3 billion (RM12.9 billion) in its ‘smoke-free technology’, and plans to make Malaysia its next market for the cigarette alternative. It claimed the product could also be in line with the government’s mandate to discourage smoking in the country.

Meanwhile, PMI continues to aggressively increase sales of its regular cigarettes and fight against government efforts to reduce smoking such as 100% smoke-free public places, bans on tobacco promotions and tobacco tax increase. To demonstrate cigarettes are important for its business, PMI has also challenged governments’ tobacco control measures in the courts and at the WTO.

PMI’s volume of cigarettes in the second quarter of 2018 increased by 6.6% to 44,788 million sticks in South and Southeast Asia region, and by 5.7% to 34,177 million in its Middle East and Africa region, compared to the same period in 2017.

Philip Morris Share of Cigarette Market in Each Country

Philippines 74%
Singapore 47%
Indonesia 35%
Thailand 28%
Malaysia 15%
Vietnam 3%
Lao PDR 1%

From the horse’s mouth: tax increase works

What drives declines in cigarette sales? Excise tax increase! PMI’s financial report shows this past six months tobacco volumes in three ASEAN countries declined because of excise tax increase: Indonesia – 1.5%, Philippines – 3.9%, Thailand – 9.7%. PMI plans to increase cigarette sales stating, the declines can be offset by ‘favourable pricing variance’ – selling cheaper cigarettes.

Governments can protect their health policies from tobacco industry interference by implementing Article 5.3 guidelines. Please refer to good country practice.