On Monday, the world’s largest tobacco company, Philip Morris International, launched a campaign to encourage people in the UK to quit smoking tobacco.
Tobacco causes nearly 100,000 smoking-related deaths in the UK every year. And it’s the leading cause of premature death and the leading preventable cause of cancer. Selling tobacco cigarettes makes up 86% of Philip Morris’ business, so why do they want people to stop smoking?
The adverts are being sold under the guise of a public health campaign. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
It’s a staggering hypocrisy, where this tobacco giant is running a PR campaign in the UK to promote its own ‘quit smoking’ products, all the while continuing to promote its deadly tobacco products in countries where it’s still legal to do so.
Maintaining huge profit margins
The latest campaign is just one of a string of tactics that we’ve seen from the tobacco industry to improve its image while continuing to block anti-smoking measures and promote tobacco cigarettes to maintain its profit margins.
In 2011, Philip Morris International launched its ‘Be Malboro’ campaign, which has been strongly criticised for deliberately targeting young people and encouraging them to take up smoking.
And in 2015, the company filed a lawsuit against the UK Government over its plan to introduce plain packaging for tobacco products, a measure to make cigarettes less appealing to children.
Public health vs. vested interests
The UK Government is committed to protecting public health policies from the vested interests of the tobacco industry as part of an international treaty. And rightly so. Given the industry’s historical record of manipulation and ongoing harm to public health, it cannot and should not be trusted.
If Philip Morris really want to help people to stop smoking, the best thing they could do is stop making cigarettes.
But that’s not going to happen.
What the latest campaign shows is the tobacco industry has money set aside to help smokers quit. National advertising campaigns like this one aren’t cheap. And we want the Government to see this and instead make the tobacco industry pay for the damage it causes.
A levy on their sales in the UK could contribute to a centralised pot of money for public health services. This would help the Government reach a smokefree future, keeping decisions around what’s best for public health away from those who profit from tobacco.
George Butterworth is a senior policy manager at Cancer Research UK
Read more: Why tobacco remains a global threat