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Marlboro says it wants to quit smoking: Good news or PR stunt?

Marlboro maker Phillip Morris is making literal headlines by claiming that it is trying to give up cigarettes in 2018.  By placing full-page advertisements in many predominate UK newspapers, the Big Tobacco conglomerate seems to be encouraging smokers to quit just in time for their New Year’s resolutions.  Is this good news for public health, or is the tobacco giant simply trying to push their customers towards their latest product lines of Heat-not-Burn technology?

For example, one advert says,

“Philip Morris is known for cigarettes. Every year, many smokers give them up. Now it’s our turn. Our ambition is to stop selling cigarettes in the UK. It won’t be easy.”

Phillip Morris not only plans to stop selling cigarettes, it also plans to become more involved with public education regarding the dangers of smoking.  According to a spokesperson, they have a multi-pronged approached.

  • Phillip Morris wants to create a new website which educates readers on the dangers of smoking.
  • The company is also promising to actively support those smoking cessation services offered by UK government agencies.
  • Phillip Morris reps have also apparently written a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May requesting to place government-approved inserts into the individual packs of cigarettes sold throughout the UK. The inserts would allegedly contain information on how to quit.
  • Meanwhile, they also promise to expand the availability of new alternative products, which are implied to be Heat-not-Burn technologies.

According to the BBC, Philip Morris claims to have spent £2.5bn on alternatives to tobacco cigarettes, and they apparently feel that it’s time to make the switch.  So, why doesn’t Phillip Morris just stop selling cigarettes immediately?


According to one report, Phillip Morris fears that if they pull out of the market lickety-split, then some other company will simply take their place.  They want to part of the solution, not simply avoid the problem entirely.

What is Phillip Morris really up to?

While this sounds very noble, some members of the World Health Organisation (WHO) remain skeptical.  In was only in September that WHO rejected Phillip Morris’ plan to set up the notorious Smoke-Free World Foundation.  Phillip Morris has also openly opposed WHO’s policies on graphic labels warnings on cigarettes packs.  No wonder WHO reps are suspicious of the tobacco company’s sudden change of heart.

Americans have also been witnessing a surge in TV and print campaigns sponsored by tobacco companies which appear to warn viewers of the dangers of smoking.  However, these advertisements are a court-ordered result of a 1999 civil lawsuit where Big Tobacco was found guilty of racketeering charges. 

Phillip Morris has been battling and losing lawsuits like these for decades, and not just in the United States.  After losing a plain packaging case in Australia recently, the company was ordered to pay tens of millions of dollars in damages.  Meanwhile, a new lawsuit has just been filed against Phillip Morris and British American Tobacco by the national health insurance community of South Korea.   

What is Phillip Morris really up to with this new advertising campaign?  The truth remains to be seen.


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