By Lubna Hamdan
Despite cynicism from anti-smoking organisations, the tobacco giant continues its “smoke-free future” campaign, including in the GCC, where it is in talks to introduce its most recent smoke-free product IQOS
In line with its plan to create a “smoke-free future,” the world’s largest publicly traded tobacco company Philip Morris International (PMI) has urged consumers to “stop smoking” and switch to smoke-free products.
The controversial firm, which manufactures and distributes popular cigarette brand Marlboro, ventured into heated tobacco products in a bid to provide smokers with less harmful alternatives to traditional cigarettes.
“If you're a smoker looking to improve your health, the best thing is to quit. But if you would otherwise continue smoking, all we want is for you to stop smoking and go to a smoke-free product,” said Joshua Gideon Townsend, manager corporate affairs RRP, PMI.
The firm told Arabian Business recently it is in talks to launch its best-selling smoke-free product, IQOS, in the GCC.
The electronic device is designed to heat tobacco without burning it, releasing nicotine-containing vapour that features 90-95% lower levels of toxicants compared to cigarette smoke. While it is currently sold in 25 markets globally, it is expected to be available in a total of 30-35 markets by the end of 2017.
So far, the device has helped two million smokers quit conventional cigarettes, according to PMI.
Furthermore, the company reiterated its CEO André Calantzopoulos’ announcement last year that the company is working to “phase-out” cigarettes.
“Our ambition as PMI is to convince all current smokers, who otherwise won’t quit, to switch to non-combustibles and smoke-free products, as soon as possible. Our aim is to design a smoke-free future. And at some point we expect to be out of the cigarette business,” said Townsend.
While he said there is “no timeline” at present to when PMI expects to stop making cigarettes, he explained the switch is “not something that we can just impose on consumers. I think consumers also need to drive [this], but we’re doing everything we can to keep that drive going.”
“At the moment, our whole objective is that we’re not trying to increase tobacco consumption. We have enough of a market [share] if we look specifically at people who are currently smoking. There is plenty of work now to focus on this category of people. From a business prospective, at present, is to have a situation of, what is working for the company is also working for public health,” he said.
“The idea is you don’t encourage new people to start smoking and you encourage those who are smoking to switch to potentially less harmful alternatives. We’re going to look at that space. Other companies in the industry are getting in that same space as well. It’s a win-win for public health and the business. I have no idea what the industry will look like down the road, but for the time being, there is plenty of work for us to be doing just in that space; and continue to be, from what it seems like, very profitable,” he added.
Despite the multinational company’s efforts to change its standing with health regulators and the public, anti-smoking organisations continue to cast doubt on its attempts, claiming its “smoke-free” campaign is unconvincing.
The firm has been fighting to counter plain packaging of cigarette packs in a number of countries, including the UK, where it has recently been introduced.
On Thursday, Reuters claimed leaked documents from 2014 show the firm developed a “corporate strategy to fight tobacco regulation around the world,” including plain packaging.
However, speaking to Arabian Business, PMI said its intentions are far from secret.
“Of course we interact with governments and share our views with decision-makers, just like any company. Despite some cinematic depictions, our views on tobacco regulation are far from secret. No amount of industry conversation stops a policy-maker from acting independently,” said Tony Snyder, vice president, communication and corporate affairs at PMI.
“Multiple points of view are paramount for effective decision-making and our teams will continue to make our views known in all countries where we operate. This is especially important now with the advent of reduced-risk products that will need new regulatory frameworks,” Snyder added.For all the latest retail news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.