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Philip Morris wants Asia for cig sales, not UK

9 August 2021

Philip Morris International (PMI) recently announced it wants to stop selling cigarettes in the UK by 2030. It is an attention-grabbing statement and is intended to be.  But how seriously can you take its words?

Firstly, the UK has comprehensive tobacco control measures in place and the government has already pledged to end smoking in England by 2030 as part of a range of measures to tackle the causes of preventable ill health. Hence, PMI’s statement is inconsequential.

Secondly, local health advocates provide a reality check that these are ‘Fine words not the solution’ and that PMI has made similar statements before.

In 2016, the former CEO of PMI told the BBC that the firm could stop making conventional cigarettes. And again in 2018, in another BBC interview, the CEO said Philip Morris wanted to phase out cigarettes as soon as possible.

Thirdly, outside the UK, the reality shows PMI is expanding cigarette sales in Asia where its cash cow countries are. Table 1 shows its key cigarette markets in the ASEAN region where it finds ways to ensure cigarette sales are promoted, protected, and where it continues to oppose tobacco control measures.

 

2020 Total stick sales* bil

How PMI is increasing cigarette sales

PMI Cigarette market share

Indonesia

303.5

Oppose tobacco advertising ban

 33%

Philippines

67.0

Sue a small city for protecting minors from cigarettes

70%

Thailand

33.5

Marlboro is the most smoked brand in Thailand

40%

* Source: SourcesGlobalData, Cigarette Reports, 2020

Indonesia has the largest cigarette (kretek) market of about 300 billion sticks in 2020. PMI’s local subsidiary, PT HM Sampoerna, has about 33% of this lucrative cigarette market. In June 2020, Sampoerna wrote to the Regent of Karangasem in Bali requesting him to revoke the ban on outdoor tobacco advertising.

An international survey covering 21 countries, including Indonesia, revealed Marlboro cigarettes were sold close to schools in 20 of the countries surveyed. In 13 of those, cigarettes were for sale within 250 meters of a school at more than 2,400 retailers.

In the Philippines, PMI’s subsidiary, PMFTC, controls about 70% of the local cigarette market share. PMFTC successfully sued the small City of Balanga of 96,000 residents for passing stringent ordinance that creates a tobacco-free environment to protect its people, particularly the younger generation.    

In Thailand, in 2013, PMI sued the Thai Ministry of Health for apply large pictorial warning on cigarette packs for not consulting it before passing the law. The court case delayed the implementation of the law meant to warn and educate smokers and the public on the harms of smoking.

Marlboro is a popular imported brand smoked in Thailand. In March 2020, a Thai court fined the local unit of Philip Morris US$4 million (130 million baht) for dodging tax on cigarette imports from Indonesia.

Earlier, in 2019 Philip Morris was found guilty of evading taxes by under-declaring the value of cigarettes it imported from the Philippines and ordered the company to pay a fine of $39.7 million (1.2 billion baht).

Philip Morris’ claims of a “smoke-free future” rings hollow since it fights tobacco control measures that affect its cigarette sales and undermines government efforts to protect public health.