Philip Morris International (PMI) has spent millions of dollars telling the public that it wants to achieve a “smoke-free world”. STOP researchers analysed that claim and asked two questions:
1 Do PMI’s actions match its rhetoric?
2 Should we trust PMI to reduce harm from the tobacco epidemic it has caused?
Through our extensive research of publicly available information, industry analyst data and company documents, we conclude that PMI is addicting people to its IQOS product because its cigarette business is under threat. The company’s survival depends on hooking a new generation of users, including youth, on its products.
Money is the ONLY motive, not health.
Global cigarette sales have fallen by around 20% over the last decade thanks largely to effective policies like tobacco taxes and marketing bans. Our analysis shows that PMI launched IQOS in markets where people were already smoking less and where regulations were stronger.
PMI’s marketing and pricing strategy for IQOS appears to be aimed more at establishing an aspirational brand than encouraging smokers to quit cigarettes. In fact, PMI continues to do all it can to sell as many cigarettes as possible.
An addictive product portfolio in every country is a recipe for long-term profits, not long-term health.
Leaked 2014 PMI documents reveal the truth about PMI’s smoke-free vision: “Reduced risk products” are seen as essential to “drive future growth”, “normalize” the company’s image and allow it to shape regulation in its own interest.
A Philip Morris 1981 internal document stated: “Today’s teenager is tomorrow’s potential customer.” That attitude persists: PMI relies on new youth consumers to survive. And it does. The evidence confirms that PMI continues to target youth with its cigarettes, for example marketing them at youth-friendly events like music festivals. And PMI has been recruiting people as young as 19 years old to promote IQOS.
By Nov 2019, IQOS was launched in countries where smoking is declining and regulation is stronger.
Meanwhile, PMI continues to perpetuate the tobacco epidemic it already caused. Far from giving up cigarettes, it has invested in new cigarette brands; bought new cigarette businesses; set up new manufacturing deals; challenged effective regulation; and deliberately undermined the world’s first global treaty on health, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
In 2018, PMI sold 740 billion cigarettes worldwide and assured investors that it remains “committed to maintaining a leading share in the international cigarette category.”
Whenever tobacco companies have faced a major threat, they have introduced new products promising they would be less harmful. They used these products to protect their sales and position themselves as part of the solution and re-connect with policymakers. Ultimately, they just undermined progress while providing the industry with a new way to make money.
1950s – 1970s
Filter tips and “light cigarettes”
1970s – 2000s
Portioned smokeless tobacco and snus
2000s – Present
The Foundation for a Smoke-Free World claims it is an independent, transparent, scientific body. In reality, the Foundation is wholly reliant on PMI funding. Our research explains how the Foundation’s activities appear to be coordinated with PMI. We conclude that it is effectively operating as a public relations and lobbying arm of the tobacco company.
Apparent coordination between Philip Morris and the Foundation in 2018 and 2019
STOP’s analysis is that the Foundation has failed in its quest for legitimacy and influence.
- PMI remains its only funder.
- Many credible researchers have turned down funding
- Credible journals have rejected its research.
- Ogilvy, its ad agency, announced it no longer works with the Foundation “to avoid any conflict with its health clients.”
- Staff turnover is high
- Events have been cancelled due to lack of interest
- Despite investing millions of dollars in PR, media coverage is largely sceptical.
Critically, the WHO and hundreds of global public health experts declared they will not work with the Foundation.
Policymakers exclude the tobacco industry and tobacco funded or linked research from policy discussions on tobacco control and alternative products
Advocates and the public health community continue to hold the industry accountable
Consumers do not support a business that builds a portfolio of addictive, deadly products while fighting efforts to reduce smoking
Journalists challenge the discrepancy between PMI’s claims and its actual behavior
Universities reject funding from all tobacco companies and their allies such as PMI’s front group, the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World
Research journals refuse to publish research funded by tobacco companies and their allies