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PMI’S Publicity Stunt Does Not Go Down Well

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Philip Morris International are known as one of the largest and most established cigarette manufacturers around the globe. Tobacco is their thing and yet this tobacco firm last year announced with full page advertisements in the UK that they planned to gradually pull their tobacco operations and sales in the UK back, for the good of the health of the UK people. A bold move many said. Clever marketing said others who may now not be surprised to hear that Philip Morris International (PMI) are now offering to help NHS workers quit smoking, with their own heated tobacco products.

The headline “PMI helps protect NHS staff health” is great advertising, especially when the aim is to help these

valuable staff quit by getting them to switch over to PMI’s own heated tobacco products. Needless to say that this campaign has not be well received.

Heated tobacco, rather than burning tobacco sounds much better from a health perspective. Heated tobacco smokeless smokes are not however e cigarettes. E cigarettes heat up a non-toxic, flavoured e liquid or e juice in order to produce a pleasant vapour which may be inhaled. Vaping and smokeless smokes are very different.

The jury is still very much out on smokeless smokes as the heating of cigarette tobacco, the likes of which have been classified as toxic and potentially cancer-causing by the World Health Organisation. Vaping however has received the green light from numerous NHS trusts and medical experts, not least Public Health England.

Public Health England are the government group who run the popular quit smoking event Stoptober, are responsible for numerous highly successful public health campaigns and were responsible for putting together the smoking bans which came into place in 2007. An authority on public health, it was a great day in the vaping community when PHE announced their findings that vaping is at least 95% less harmful than vaping. Many expect the 5% to catch up once longer-term studies into vaping have been completed.

With PHE advocating for the use of e cigarettes as an alternative to smoking harmful tobacco cigarettes and NHS trusts supporting vaping, health charities and researchers giving it the thumbs up, it’s no wonder Philip Morris International are looking for a piece of that particular pie, which is where the smokeless tobacco products come in.

The announcement of PMI’s "selfless" intention to help NHS workers quit smoking this way has largely been met with scorn and the self-interest here is clear to see. Citing the 70th anniversary of the NHS as a great time to “help” PMI took the risky step to offer help this way, risky because it is against WHO framework guidelines as PMI will be well aware of. The guidance reads:

“Parties should not accept, support or endorse partnerships and non-binding or non-enforceable agreements as well as any voluntary arrangement with the tobacco industry or any entity or person working to further its interests.”

We’re pretty sure that what PMI are suggesting does not adhere to these rules.

The Public Health Minister, Steve Brine is understandably unimpressed calling PMI’s actions “entirely inappropriate” and agreeing that while helping everyone, NHS staff and otherwise to move away from tobacco smoking is incredibly important, efforts to do so should not be party to commercial interests.

Dubbed a PR stunt and one which is in poor taste at best, one NHS commentor suggested that the best way PMI could support NHS workers in their bid to quit smoking would be to stop making cigarettes. Latching onto the 70 year anniversary of the NHS, something the UK are very proud of, despite the struggles the NHS face today, was always likely to be met with disapproval and as predicted has done little help their commercial cause in the UK, quite the opposite.

Some would assume that after their previous stunt last year where PMI offered to fund a $1b scheme to help create a smoke-free world was slammed by campaigners, that PMI might have learned a lesson. In addition to this, using a campaign such as this to unlawfully advertise their heated tobacco products earned them additional scorn. No-one likes feeling that someone is trying to pull the wool over their eyes and vapers, campaigners, government experts and more all take a dim view of these types of helpful offers from PMI.

While they say no advertising is bad advertising we feel that PMI might be causing themselves more harm than good here by seriously misjudging the nation’s attitude to smoking, heated tobacco, hidden agendas and big tobacco. Vaping has been adopted by many as a legitimate and healthier alternative to smoking and a large part of its acceptance has been down to its commitment to transparency. Having nothing to hide helps with this, which, it would seem, is not something PMI can claim.