Saturday, August 31, 2019

Smoke and Mirrors

Cigarette giant,  Philip Morris International (PMI) calls for never-smokers to stay away from cigarettes, for smokers to quit, and for those smokers who do not quit to change to better alternatives. PMI is now navigating consumers away from cigarettes and towards its own e-cigarettes and heat-not-burn products, although serious concerns about the safety of the smoke-free alternatives are mounting.  

Yet, controversial marketing strategies targeting young people and ongoing forceful rebranding of cigarettes in low-income countries indicate an unprecedented degree of corporate hypocrisy.

The tobacco industry is notorious for misleading consumers and the general public about the addictiveness of nicotine and the harmful effects of tobacco smoking. PMI no longer denies that tobacco smoking causes life-threatening cardiovascular and pulmonary disease, but it justifies with an unbearable lightness the role it has in fuelling the enormous disease burden that is directly related to smoking.  In 2015 alone, smoking caused more than one in ten deaths worldwide and killed more than 6 million people, resulting in a global loss of nearly 150 million disability-adjusted life-years. 

The business continues, PMI says, because fully informed consumers make personal choices to start smoking regardless of the health risks, and as long as there is a demand for cigarettes, PMI will supply them. With sales of more than 740 billion cigarettes each year, 90% of revenue stemming from cigarette sales, rising sales and expanding market share in developing countries, aggressive lobbying, and relentless efforts to curtail controls and restrictions on smoking put in place to protect the public, never has there been so duplicitous or nonsensical a corporate manoeuvre as PMI's campaign in promoting a smoke-free future while whitewashing its role in subverting global tobacco control efforts.

Blaming others—the consumer, health advocates, authorities, other tobacco companies—is a recurring theme. Claiming to be clearing the way for change is hypocritical for a company that refuses to end its cigarette production until it makes enough money from smoke-free products or as long as other tobacco companies exist to fill the market gap. 

PMI continues to thrive on a global addiction to tobacco. It is a tragedy that profits trumps good health  when it comes to taking corporate responsibility.

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