Some readers were left skeptical in January 2019 after a spate of news articles reported that Philip Morris International (PMI), the company that makes and markets the iconic Marlboro brand outside of the United States, had announced plans to end their production of cigarettes altogether.
On 9 January, for example, Newsweek reported that:
Philip Morris International, the tobacco giant behind Marlboro and other leading brands, is hoping to phase out manufacturing cigarettes entirely and move into smoke-free products only.
The New York-based multibillion-dollar company announced that they’ve chosen to do “something really big” by moving away from cigarette production and placing emphasis on electronic substitutes instead.
WDCG radio similarly reported that:
The international tobacco giant behind Marlboro and other major brands like L&M, Parliament and Chesterfield, made a major announcement on New Year’s Eve — the company plans on phasing out the manufacturing of cigarettes and move into other smoke-free products.
The company said they’ve chosen to do “something really big” and move away from cigarette production and instead focus on devices like IQOS, which heats tobacco rather than burn it. It claims the product could potentially reduce the number of noxious chemicals by 95 percent, but research is still being carried out.
“If we stop selling cigarettes, someone else is going to sell them because people buy them,” Andre Calantzopoulos, CEO of Phillip Morris International, told Sky News. “So I don’t think that will have any impact on public health or the health of people.”
“At the end of the day, the ambition we have is to replace cigarettes as soon as possible, with better alternatives for the people who continue smoking,” said Calantzopoulos.
Similar articles followed from WITI, WTMX, and Rare.us. These reports were largely accurate but misrepresented Philip Morris International’s (PMI) strategy of shifting production away from conventional cigarettes as a new announcement in the early days of 2019.
In reality, PMI has for months and even years been engaged in what it described in 2018 as a “relentless business shift toward [a] smoke-free future,” providing initial funding for a major research initiative called the Foundation for a Smoke-Free world, as well as developing and marketing a heated tobacco device called IQOS and a nicotine-containing e-vapor product called MESH, among others.
Since February 2017, the company’s website has featured a pagethat stating that:
We’ve built the world’s most successful cigarette company, with the world’s most popular and iconic brands. Now we’ve made a dramatic decision. We will be far more than the leading cigarette company. We’re building PMI’s future on smoke-free products that are a much better choice than cigarette smoking. Indeed, our vision — for all of us at PMI — is that these products will one day replace cigarettes.
In May 2018, the company promoted their 2017 Sustainability Report with a clear expression of its intention to cease production of conventional cigarettes, writing that “PMI’s commitment and ambition is to replace cigarettes as soon as possible with better alternatives to smoking for the millions of men and women who would otherwise continue to smoke.”
So what happened in January 2019 was not that PMI announced, for the first time, that they intended to phase out their production of cigarettes entirely, but that the UK’s Sky News conducted an interview with Calantzopoulos, who reiterated the company’s intentions, saying that “The ambition we have is to replace cigarettes as soon as possible with better alternatives, obviously, for the people who continue smoking …”:
Many of the January 2019 news reports may also have misled U.S.-based readers about the immediate relevance of PMI’s stated intention of eventually ending cigarette production by omitting important details about how Marlboro cigarettes are marketed throughout the world.
This is because PMI produces and sells Marlboro cigarettes outside of the United States, while Philip Morris USA, a subsidiary of a separate company called Altria, produces and sells Marlboro cigarettes within the United States.
While Altria has made some movement into the development of smoke-free alternatives to conventional cigarettes, it has not announced a strategy of ultimately ceasing all production of cigarettes in the same way that PMI has.