In a recent press statement, the CEO of tobacco giant Phillip Morris International has announced that they will be investing 80 million a year into the Foundation for a Smoke Free World Initiative. This seems like a strange step for a company who make 20 billion dollars a year from selling tobacco products and this pledge has left those in the vaping community scratching their heads as to what the reasoning could be.
Who are the FSFWI?
The Foundation for a Smoke Free world is a company who are seeking to “accelerate an end to smoking” through partnerships with tobacco companies and finding ways to devolve the smoking industry into one which uses alternatives to smoking tobacco. The tax-exempt corporation is run by a Derek Yach, former Head of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Tobacco Free Initiative. Yach therefore has years of experience when it comes to working with tobacco companies and is therefore used to making connections with seemingly adversarial tobacco companies.
A bit about Phillip Morris
One of the most well-known providers of tobacco over the past century, PMI have risen to own and provide some of the most popular tobacco products in the world. The company is currently presided over by CEO Andre Calantzopoulos who has recently come out to say that their funding of the Smoke Free World initiative’s
“efforts are squarely focused on ultimately replacing cigarettes with smoke-free products, by offering the millions of men and women who continue to smoke a better alternative.”
Long term game or PR?
So, why would PMI put so much money into an initiative which seems to be promoting the exact opposite of what they believe in. There is an argument that Phillip Morris’s interest may be forward thinking and in fact rather benevolent. The multinational corporation may be looking at the long game, realising that the tobacco industry, with its many regulations and an increasing advocacy against smoking throughout the world, may be on its last legs. Perhaps they are thinking of their long-term survival, turning instead to vaping and heat not burn products to pave the way for a Phillip Morris evolution. After all, they’d be killing two birds with one stone; not only would they be saving face, but they’d also be saving themselves from potential ruin down the line.
On the other hand, 80 million a year is hardly a lot of money for the company, who have a capital of around 20 billion a year from the tobacco industry. The suspicious and cynical among us, who are large in number regarding the insidious past of the company in regard to science distortion, may believe this to be a simple PR stunt to show how the company is one of the “good guys”.
Heat not burn precedence?
It could also be that PMI are capitalising on one of their newest products, the Heat Not Burn IQOS device, which is healthier than cigarettes but less so than vaping due to it still using tobacco. Some worry that if PMI get their fingers in the FSFW, they could push heat not burn over vape products, leading to the end of the independent vape community as it is pushed aside by a revitalised heat not burn craze. The future is unclear however. Perhaps in the future PMI will invest in vape companies themselves, leading to the end of tobacco as we know it.
Could this then be a win for vaping or are vape shops going to be pushed out by the big guys? With the investment from PMI, there are two roads we could go down when it comes to further research into the vape industry. The PMI influence could overshadow potentially life changing research into the vape industry, tinging any studies with a negative lens as they try to add more restrictions onto it as they promote their Heat Not Burn products. We could also see the credibility of FSFW fall and less prestigious institutions willing to invest in vape research.
FSFW is not in the hands of PMI
However, FSFW have come out and said that the investment from PMI will in no way affect their research and the way that they currently conduct themselves. This could spell good news for vaping, especially due to laws stating that PMI’s investment in the scheme does not in any way give them a say in how the company is run. This means that FSFW could take the money and keep on doing things their own way. This could be a good sign for the vaping industry which will benefit from the smoke free message of the FSFW and could gain more funds in research regardless of PMI’s involvement.
However, only time will tell. The vape industry is young and there is much room for growth and research. It could be years before we see any effect from the FSFW and perhaps longer before we see a change in tactics from Phillip Morris International.