On April 8, 2019, Philip Morris International (PMI) made a claim meant to shock the world: PMI was going smoke-free. To kick off its “Year of Unsmoke,” Philip Morris International made a public plea to “smokers, nonsmokers, regulators and agents of change” to help “remove smoke from our world.”
It sounds nice. And it aligns well with PMI’s extensive on-going attempts to revamp its public image. But it doesn’t add up: Getting smokers to quit altogether and preventing a new generation from starting would mean creating a large dent in PMI’s highly profitable cigarette business—something that would concern any shareholder.
That’s why it came as no surprise that just one month later, in May 2019, PMI CEO André Calantzopoulos reassured shareholders, “Our combustible tobacco portfolio remains the foundation of our business.”
A close look at PMI’s actions over the past year revealed that, far from “unsmoking” the world, it continues to make as much money from the tobacco epidemic as it can. It has made hundreds of billions of cigarettes, marketed to young people and fought policies that would actually reduce smoking.
The actions taken over the past 12 months clearly show how PMI’s #UnsmokeIsAJoke.
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PMI promotes and sells flavored cigarettes at events for young people in Costa Rica and Argentina, violating tobacco laws in both countries.
In direct contradiction to one of the campaign’s core messages (“If you don’t smoke, don’t start”), PMI advertised and sold Marlboro Mega Blast Capsule cigarettes at the point of sale at events such as Lollapalooza (March 2019) and Rock at Baradero in Buenos Aires. Although governments have attempted to ban flavors in Latin America, the tobacco industry has strongly opposed this policy, which is meant to prevent youth smoking.
PMI advertises “Music Limited Edition” cigarettes in Israel.
To counter increased taxes on cigarettes and ensure their products were easily accessible, PMI lowered Marlboro prices and ran ads for limited-edition music-themed packs using the slogans, “Sound up. Price down,” and “What’s Your Sound?” The ads were part of PMI’s new “You Decide” campaign and appeared in print publications.
PMI introduces a new brand of cigarettes and launches its “You Decide” ad campaign in Indonesia.
Despite a public commitment to “unsmoke” the world, Philip Morris International introduced a new high-tar, high nicotine cigarette brand, Philip Morris Bold, in Indonesia. To promote the new cigarette, PMI ran television and billboard ads throughout the country and to the large tourist population in Bali.
A long-running case involving Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corporation (PMFTC) takes another step as a Philippine city fights industry legal action.
When the city of Balanga attempted to institute a smoke-free ordinance for its University Town, it was met with legal challenges in 2017 from the Philippine Tobacco Institute, representing Philip Morris and other tobacco companies. In 2018, the Regional Trial Court ruled in favor of the tobacco industry. The legal battle against PMFTC continued when the city issued an appeal in July 2019 to fight for the smoke-free ordinances its residents supported. Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance said of the legal challenge, “If Philip Morris is genuinely supportive of a smoke-free world, it should be supporting and not opposing Balanga’s efforts to protect present and future generations from the harms of tobacco and nicotine addiction, in line with the global health treaty, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).”
Efforts by PMI to interfere with tobacco control policy in Moldova are exposed.
Swiss officials lobbied on behalf of PMI to persuade Moldovan officials that PMI deserved to be part of the conversation around newly proposed, strict tobacco laws. PMI won a seat at the table, but Moldovan lawmakers passed the legislation, nonetheless. This advance was made with blatant disregard for the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, to which Moldova is a party, and which states that tobacco industry interference in policymaking should not be tolerated.
Philip Morris Limited makes multiple attempts to partially fund Israeli medical students’ education in exchange for participation in PMI “health” programs.
When Philip Morris Limited (the Israeli affiliate of PMI) reached out to the Bar-Ilan University Azrieli Faculty of Medicine to offer students grants in exchange for participating in 120 to 130 hours per year of PMI programs about smoking, the university rejected the offer. Philip Morris Limited then approached the school’s Medical Students Union with the same offer, and the Union also rejected it due to “moral flaw.” A third attempt with the National Medical Students Association was also rejected. Chairman of the Israel Association of Public Health Physicians, Professor Hagai Levine, told Haaretz.com, “Under the Convention on Tobacco Control and according to health authorities world over, no one should be taking a scholarship from a tobacco company, certainly not medical students. In Israel alone, 8,000 people die every year [from smoking], many of them from Philip Morris products.”