Like salivating foxes outside a henhouse, Big Tobacco companies like Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco are deep in global charm offensives, trying to convince the public, the corporate world, governments and public health leaders that they have changed. They want to be embraced as health promoters!
Overnight, Moira Gilchrist, Vice President at Philip Morris International, tweeted this
Here’s some news for you Moira, we’re doing very, very well in helping smokers “who would otherwise continue smoking” to stop doing just that. It’s been going on for decades, despite your industry’s best efforts to thwart what we’ve been doing. And look at the harm we’re been able to reduce, in spite of your industry’s opposition.
Despite decades of abject failures in producing reduced harm products, they are still at it, this time with ecigarettes and heat-not-burn nicotine delivery systems.
The development of cigarette filters from the 1930s was the daddy of all harm reduction false assurances. While anyone looking at the brown gunk discolouring a cigarette filter gets it that this nasty stuff is caught in the filter and not inhaled, few appreciate that filters do not stop a lot of toxic material being inhaled.
And few are likely to appreciate that what gets inhaled deep into the lungs does not all come out when a smoker exhales, as this elegantly simple video demonstration makes very clear.
Throughout my career, journalists have often asked me for sets of questions I might suggest that they could ask visiting spin doctors from tobacco companies at conferences, press conference or during interviews.
Here’s one I put together in 2005 for David Davies, then vice president for corporate affairs for Philip Morris, when he spoke about harm reduction at Australia’s National Press Club in Canberra.
So, journalists, here are 10 questions you might like to be impertinent enough to ask a tobacco company wanting to explain to you their latest vision. And Moira, you are very welcome to answer these here. I will publish your responses, and will give you up to 2000 words to do so.
10 Questions for Philip Morris International
- You say you want smokers to switch to IQOS, but Philip Morris USA (a separate company to Philip Morris International which just happens to share the words “Philip Morris” in its title) is on record recently as saying on its website that cigarettes are “our core product” and that they are working hard to keep their smokers happy with “best quality” cigarette products. Are cigarettes also PMI’s “core product’? Or asking another way, how much global revenue does PMI make from tobacco today, and how much from IQOS and what are your forecasts for these numbers in the next 10 years? Are your shareholders happy with you purposefully trying to drive south (by far) your biggest income stream?
- What are the KPIs (key performance indicators) for the sales, marketing and public affairs staff in your cigarette division today? Are they being asked to try and sell less cigarettes or to keep on trying to sell more? Could we all see copies of some of those please?
- In Indonesia, Philip Morris International owns the Sampoerna tobacco company. In 2016, Reuters reported that you were trying to get “wider reach” there via “stronger cigarettes” What do you say to those who say you are being duplicitous with all this reduced harm talk when this is what you are doing when you calculate that people in the west might not notice? Similarly, when the city of Balanga, Luzon in the Philippines wanted to implement a smokefree campus and surrounding environs, you supported the Philippine Tobacco Institute in its (successful) legal case against the proposal. So you say you want people to quit smoking, but only if they switch to IQoS, is that it? And if not you will continue fight effective tobacco control as usual?
- In recent years, your company has aggressively opposed tobacco control policies like graphic health warnings, plain packs, and increasing tobacco tax, all known to reduce smoking. When you do this, can you understand that many people think you are flagrantly lying when you say you want to help tobacco control?
- What do you say to critics who say that your business model is surely all about smoking AND vaping, not smoking OR vaping?
- I don’t think I’ve ever met a smoker who wanted their kids to grow up and start smoking. Do you feel the same way? Would you also hope that children would not take up vaping? If you really believe ecigs are of minimal risk, why not openly encourage kids to vape?
- Smoking by Australian teens is at a record low (1.9% of 15-17 year olds currently smoke) I find it hard to believe if your company had not modeled the impact of such a dire situation on your bottom line into the future if this was to continue. So what does that modelling show? And am I wrong in thinking that if your IQOS product does not attract a significant number of kids into regularly using it, then your company will wither and die within a few decades because if only smokers switch, many of those will quit and die, with no cohort of young people moving through to replace them.
- The parent company of Philip Morris USA, Altria, just invested $US12.8billon in Juul, the vaping product that has spearheaded 20% of US teens using ecigs in the last 30 days. Are you going to tell me that this teen use of ecigs “concerns” you or that there were a lot of champagne corks popping at work when you all saw that data?
- The average daily vaper inhales 200 times a day and up to 600. The average daily smoker inhales about 95 times a day. Does that comparison suggest that nicotine delivered via vaping might be very, very addictive? Does that bother you?
- I’ve heard people very unkindly quip that it would be a good idea if all tobacco company employees were obliged to smoke or vape (in the obverse way that no cancer control agency would hire a smoker). It would be hard to imagine a senior executive in a car company who chose to not drive or own a car, but to always cycle or walk and openly declare that; or the head of a meat marketing board who was an open vegetarian, or a skin cancer prevention advocate who was deeply tanned. So why do you think your company is comfortable with some of its employees choosing not to smoke or vape? Do you smoke or vape yourself?
Follow-up (1 March 2019)
After I posted this piece a week ago, and tweeted a link to Moira Gilchrist from PMI, the following exchanges occurred (see thread here)
So. Thank you Moira, for partially answering the first bit of question 1 above (“Or asking another way, how much global revenue does PMI make from tobacco today, and how much from IQOS and what are your forecasts for these numbers in the next 10 years?”) and this below
Moira, this is clear as far as it goes, but it sits very awkwardly with all the unanswered questions I posed above about your company’s continuing efforts to attack tobacco control policies designed to get non-smokers (mostly kids) to “don’t start” (eg: high tobacco taxes, graphic health warnings, plain packs) and to motivate smokers to “quit now” (again, high taxes, graphic warnings, plain packs, plus smoke free policies like the one you helped stop recently in Balanga, Philippines).
So, no fudging please. When can we expect your answers to the questions you publicly invited on Twitter from people like me who are (profoundly) skeptical of what we read as yet another wolf in sheep’s clothing exercise from your industry?