Tobacco giant Philip Morris International (PMI) has hit back at criticism over a $1.8 million sponsorship deal led by Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis to help fund Switzerland’s Expo 2020 pavilion in Dubai.
The world’s biggest cigarette maker and owner of the Marlboro brand came under fire last week from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Swiss School of Public Health, which published an open letter calling the tobacco industry deceitful and misleading, and urging Cassis - a former medical doctor - to reject the sponsorship money.
"This [tobacco] industry has deceived the public for decades, spread lies about the effects of smoking and passive smoking, and with massive investments misled the population into believing that science was not unified on these questions," the foundation said in a three-page letter.
But PMI, which has invested over $6 billion in heated tobacco products like iQOS to provide smokers with less harmful alternatives to traditional cigarettes, has hit back at critics, asking them to support rather than criticise their efforts to create “a smoke-free world”.
In a statement to Arabian Business, the company said: “PMI is committed to replacing cigarettes with less-harmful alternatives and offering a better choice for the world’s one billion adult smokers, who don’t quit cigarettes, as soon as possible. This will benefit smokers, the people who care for them, and overall public health.
“We stand ready to talk to and work with any organisation that truly wants to help the world’s one billion smokers quit cigarettes. We would hope that those who share our vision of a smoke-free world would support rather than criticise our efforts.”
PMI claimed it does not intend on exposing non-smokers in Dubai to tobacco-related products.
“As the event is more than one year away, specific plans for Dubai Expo 2020 are still under development and we will announce details in due course. However, we want to be clear that we do not intend to expose non-smokers to any tobacco related products. Our message is clear: if you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you smoke, quit. If you don’t quit, change,” it said.
Switzerland is home to PMI’s International Operations Center and its largest research and development centre, the Cube, which employs 300 scientists.
The Embassy of Switzerland in Abu Dhabi said it was “aware that this partnership would raise certain questions and issues” but said the sponsorship deal is part of the Swiss Government and Parliament’s objective to cover 50 percent of its Expo 2020 presence via private sponsoring in a bid to save public money.
“In order to achieve the financial objectives set by the Swiss Government and Parliament, namely 50% of the budget financed by third parties, Presence Switzerland contacted various potentially interested Swiss companies of different sizes and in different sectors,” it said.
The Embassy added that Cassis intends to analyse all sponsorship partners “particularly Philip Morris” and explore various options.
It said its planned sponsorship will restrict the visibility of PMI products to an area accessible only to adults over 21, and that the company will only promote a product developed as an alternative to traditional cigarettes.
“Clearly, all measures will be taken on site and in all communications concerning the Swiss pavilion to ensure that absolutely no impression is given that the Swiss Confederation is promoting the consumption of tobacco products,” it added.
Earlier in July, PMI launched its smoke-free product iQOS in the GCC following a much-awaited approval by the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) for the sale of the electronic device.
The company convinced regulators that iQOS produces lower levels of toxins than traditional cigarettes.
It is designed to heat tobacco without burning it, releasing nicotine-containing vapour that features 90 percent to 95 percent lower levels of toxicants compared to cigarette smoke.
The device was launched at Dubai Duty Free in December 2018 following a powerful advertising campaign across Dubai International Airport.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.
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