Given PMI’s History Should We Really Welcome This Watershed Of Big Tobacco Policy?
The New Nicotine Alliance has given a ‘cautious welcome’ to the announcement by Big Tobacco giant Phillip Morris Inc’s pledge to pack up production of the cancer sticks.
Anyone who read my piece Marlboro Men Announce They Are Quitting Smoking [published yesterday] will see I’m skeptical of their motives.
However I do have a large vein of cynicism inside me – cut me in half and you can see it written like a stick of sea-side rock 😉
So has the NNA convinced me I should welcome PMI’s announcement with a firm but distant handshake – or a big manly hug?
OK so let’s see exactly what PMI are planning and why whilst welcoming the announcement – the NNA are still a tad cautious at fully supporting the pledge.
To recap – the makers of such iconic cigarettes as Marlboro say they are looking to a ‘smoke free future’ and plan to stub out production of cigarettes ‘one day’.
A quick look at the company’s stock price yesterday [Jan 4th] showed a steep downward curve ending the day .76% points down with the forecast suggesting even more of a fall.
Is that angry shareholders selling faster than you can say “20 Marlboro please mate?”
Or just one of those blips in the market?
I’m no analyst but the announcement to quit manufacturing cigarettes in the future to be replaced by e-cigs and those Heat Not Burn products on the same day the share price takes a dive is hardly a coincidence – but then my knowledge of all that is from the movie Wall Street!
“This won’t happen overnight…” Sarah Jakes NNA
OK as well as ‘one day’ stopping production of lit tobacco products PMI pledge to:
- Offer to support Local Authority cessation services where smoking rates are highest
- Seek government approval to insert, directly into its cigarette packs, information on quitting and on switching;
- Expand the availability of new, alternative products in the UK.
You can see my thoughts on why they’re doing this in yesterday’s piece – so what are the vape advocacy group the New Nicotine Alliance saying about this some might call corporate suicide?
As is to be expected, there is a certain amount of consternation from some in public health about this development from a tobacco company, but we believe that it is something that should be cautiously welcomed.
They go on to highlight the speech made recently by NNA trustee Sarah Jakes who said:
So if you must fight the tobacco industry, fight them with truth.
Make sure that their customers know that a safer alternative is available and where their customers go they will have to follow.
Hold them to account.
If they say they want their business to transition to safer products make sure they continue in that direction.
But be pragmatic.
This won’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen at all if you continually block them simply because of who they are.
I can see were Sarah is coming from and putting on my pragmatist cap for a moment I can see the theory behind what the company says it plans to do.
But as to the practical aspect – or actions speak louder than words – sure they’ve popped up a stop smoking website – which in fairness has no ads to theirs or any other products.
And yes I understand we can’t keep Big Tobacco away from any discourse at the end of pointed sticks.
But the cynic in me once again takes over and I cannot for the life of me see how PMI or any of the tobacco giants can walk away anytime soon with such a huge amount of money involved.
Remember – PMI Has A Bad Rap Sheet
This is the gross PROFIT of the company since 2012 – the B stands for billions – and remember this is pure profit:
You can clearly see the pattern of falling revenue as smokers across the world switch in most cases to e-cigarettes and the message that ‘tobacco kills’ finally gets through – so from a financial point of view they have to do something.
Those stop smoking stats are pretty much confined to the more developed countries with PMI shifting their focus of peddling lit tobacco products to developing countries with methods described as nothing short of bullying.
So and as I quoted in my piece yesterday:
If you don’t like what is being said, then change the conversation…
PMI has had a rough couple of years media wise reflected in tumbling stock prices.
For instance back in July 2017 the company lost a major court case down under after their slick corporate lawyers fought the Australian Government to stop graphic warnings being put on the country’s cigarette packets – they were ordered to pay millions in costs.
And so on the back of bad press and these revelations and straight out of the playbook of Mad Men’s Don Draper – who really owes a lot to Edward Bernays – the undisputed granddaddy of all things ‘spin’ and PR – PMI HAS shifted the conversation away from the real issue.
Are they really planning on rolling this pledge out worldwide including developing countries where they have around 70% of the market?
They really don’t make that clear.
Look there’s an old story about a woman taking in a frozen poisonous snake – also an old Northern Soul song [aaah the memories…].
After nursing it back to life the snake bites her and she dies.
With her dying breath she asks why he bit her and the snake replies ‘you knew I was a poisonous snake before you took me in…’
Quite a good allegory actually…
NNA Gives Benefit Of The Doubt To The ‘Pledge’
So should we keep them at bay with pointed sticks or like the pragmatic NNA should we cautiously welcome them into the fold offering support to their pledge to quit tobacco production?
I’ve often said this vaping/stop smoking business makes for some very strange bedfellows and if we are to see killer tobacco products eventually replaced completely by none combustible devices then a very grudging part of me kind of says yes.
However it really doesn’t sit well in my gut that a company who’s profits come from the deaths of billions of smokers across the world are suddenly painting themselves as caring good guys – and we should welcome back like the prodigal serial killer son who’s allegedly found God…
PMI is just one of the Big Tobacco cartels that really are the type of corporations that whilst look as if they’re on the way out and ready to atone for their ‘sins’ are purely in this whole saga for the money in my humble opinion.
Indeed the former Finnish Health Minister Pekka Puska said recently:
Some people think that with tobacco, you’ve won the battle. No way… The tobacco industry is more powerful than ever.
Wise words but in the spirit of a ‘cautious welcome’ let’s leave the final word to the New Nicotine Alliance:
On the face of it, the new campaign from Philip Morris appears as if it has potential to deliver genuine benefits, and does indeed make it clear what alternatives are available and where to find them. This is the essence of harm reduction and dovetails with the aims of the government’s commitment to ‘nudge’ policies.
We understand that there is plenty of mistrust between public health and industry, but this should not blur the end goal of ensuring that smokers who wish to switch from lit tobacco are given ample opportunity to do so and made aware of all the options they have at their disposal to get there.
…The NNA fully supports efforts to raise awareness about nicotine alternatives – it is, after all, exactly what we are set up to do – but we also realise that campaigns like the one Philip Morris has embarked upon will be controversial.
We hope, however, that potential benefits from this new campaign will not be strangled by in-fighting and dogma.
There will be an intense amount of scrutiny from public health, and rightly so, but it should be exercised fairly and always with the welfare of smokers in mind.
As always we’ll keep you informed of any further developments…
BTW whilst I’ve quoted a large chunk of the NNA response you can read the full article HERE.