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Smoke and mirrors

30 July, 2021

It’s not often that a company asks the government to ban their core product.

But this is exactly what Philip Morris International (PMI) are proposing, as they call on the UK government to outlaw cigarette sales by 2030. The CEO recently stated cigarettes should be treated like petrol cars, and subject to a blanket ban in the future. All part of the company’s drive to move forwards as a “healthcare and wellness company” as part of its mission to “unsmoke the world.” In March it committed itself to earning half its revenue from non-smoking products by 2025.

Which does beg the obvious question of: what about the other half?

Discouraging the uptake of smoking is, of course, a good thing. Providing smokers with less harmful alternatives to help them quit cigarettes is a logical cessation strategy.

But cigarettes still accounted for 72% of PMI’s revenue in their first quarter results of 2021. Globally, tobacco use monitoring shows increasing uptake amongst young people in China, India and Thailand in 2020. The Middle East and Africa region is currently the fastest-growing regional market, again, largely driven by uptake amongst young people in Egypt. And let’s not forget the lengths Big Tobacco have taken to intimidate governments across sub-Saharan Africa to try and block regulations that were put in place to save lives.

We’re all for purpose led companies making bold changes and calling for broader stakeholder action. But when the product is as harmful as PMI’s is (smoking is the leading global cause of preventable death), and the company is happily combining its forward-looking proclamations with a steady stream of current sales, we have to call it smoke and mirrors.

By Jennie Mitchell

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