Don’t believe the hype: Philip Morris’ vision for its “smoke-free world” is murky
Philip Morris is trying once again to deceive the world into believing that the company has changed its views and behavior on deadly cigarettes and now deserves to be at the public health policy-making table. Its latest ploy was trying to co-opt World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) to promote its newer products. The bottom line is Philip Morris’ PR stunt of saying it supports a smokefree future doesn’t match its actions.
The World Health Organization created WNTD in 1987 to draw global attention to the tobacco epidemic and the preventable death and disease it causes. Since 1987, WNTD has highlighted the harms of tobacco use, the benefits of smokefree environments, and tobacco industry interference.
Philip Morris is not a normal company. It is a profiteering pariah responsible for more death, disease, and health care costs than any other business in the world. Just as a leopard doesn’t change its spots, Big Tobacco hasn’t changed its behavior; it has adapted and modified its activities based on changes in public opinion about smoking and being exposed to secondhand smoke, and it has introduced new, highly addictive nicotine products such as electronic smoking devices—including its 35% stake in JUUL—and heat-not-burn products like IQOS.
For the public and the public health community to trust Philip Morris’ claims that it supports a smokefree society, it would need to do the following:
- Reduce or eliminate nicotine from cigarettes: People who smoke still find it incredibly difficult to quit. This is not due to a lack of willpower, but because Philip Morris intentionally manipulated cigarettes to make them as addictive as possible by increasing nicotine levels, adding chemicals like ammonia to increase the absorption of nicotine, and adding menthol, other flavors, and sugar to make them more palatable. Philip Morris knows how to make cigarettes less addictive; it just doesn’t want to do so because people would be more likely to quit smoking.
- Stop massive public media and marketing campaigns: Philip Morris spends the vast majority of its marketing budget pushing cigarettes, particularly in marginalized communities. Low-income neighborhoods remain inundated with a massive amount of billboards, bus stop ads, and store-front advertising of menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco, while LGBTQ newspapers and bars are flooded with deceptive tobacco ads.
- Cease smearing legitimate, peer-reviewed research and discontinue interference with public health policy-making: Philip Morris and its allies have used every tool in the shed to kill evidence-based tobacco control policies around the world – including de-legitimizing peer-reviewed research that demonstrates the hazards of secondhand smoke exposure and the health and economic benefits of smokefree air laws and regulations.
Secondhand smoke still kills
Even with all the progress made over the last several decades, secondhand smoke still kills one million adults and children every year worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. These are innocent nonsmokers of all ages and ethnicities whose lives are being threatened by exposure to tobacco’s toxins and carcinogens. These members of our families and communities are the tobacco industry’s collateral damage in the name of corporate greed and shareholder profits.
As the world’s largest tobacco company, Philip Morris bears responsibility for secondhand smoke related disease and death around the world due to its expansive global interference schemes such as the Options program. Their efforts were intended to defeat smokefree laws and policies around the world, especially in hospitality workplaces such as restaurants, hotels, bars, casinos, and airports. They also infamously touted that “Doubt is Our Product,” which was designed to deflect attention away from the evidence about the health hazards of secondhand smoke and deter life-saving policy development.
Public health policy should be written by public health experts
Philip Morris has not taken responsibility for the staggering secondhand smoke death and disease toll that they created. They haven’t worked to close the gaps in smokefree workplace protections that leave millions of people working and breathing in a toxic environment in the US and around the world. Their actions in no way reflect support for a smokefree future.
Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights (ANR) urges policymakers, public health advocates, and individuals to reject Big Tobacco’s attempts to engage in public health policy-making and to instead support legitimate, comprehensive smokefree protections.
ANR is committed to protecting everyone’s right to breathe clean air in all workplaces and multi-unit homes. We believe public health policy should be written by public health experts and not Big Tobacco lobbyists and sympathizers who are trying to keep industry profits high by addicting more innocent adults and children to its deadly nicotine products.