Tobacco giant Philip Morris, makers of Marlboro, has said it could stop selling cigarettes in the UK in 10 years' time as it focuses on alternatives, such as heated tobacco. The firm also indicated it would welcome a government ban on cigarettes.
"Philip Morris can see a world without cigarettes - the sooner it happens, the better it is for everyone," the company said in a statement. Philip Morris eventually expects the government to ban smoking altogether and said that "strong regulation" was needed to "help solve the problem of cigarette smoking once and for all".
Philip Morris chief executive, Jacek Olczak, stated: "I want to allow this company to leave smoking behind." He added: "I think in the UK, 10 years from now maximum, you can completely solve the problem of smoking."
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of campaigning health charity Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) said: "Philip Morris has claimed that it wants to see the end of smoking for years now, but how can such claims be taken seriously from a company which sells more than one in 10 cigarettes smoked worldwide?"
Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, pointed out, "We've heard these empty promises from the tobacco industry before and we're concerned this move is part of an attempt by Big Tobacco to position itself as part of the solution to a smoke-free UK, all the while continuing to promote and sell lethal cigarettes here and globally. We know from our work supporting low and middle-income countries in the fight against tobacco industry interference, that Philip Morris's actions globally don't match up with their smoke-free world rhetoric."
British American Tobacco said it wanted to move away from selling traditional cigarettes as part of its future. In March, BAT took a stake in Canadian medical cannabis maker Organigram. It also signed a deal to research a new range of adult cannabis products, initially focused on cannabidiol (CBD). The firm is currently trialling a CBD vape product in Manchester.
BAT boss Jack Bowles said it saw cannabis-related products as part of its future growth.
"I think CBD vaping is part of the future, but the present challenge is reduced harm in tobacco and nicotine alternatives, encouraging people to switch."
It said more than a third of its UK revenues now come from vaping brands such as Vuse, Velo and glo. The tobacco giant also saw its fastest gain in new customers, with users of non-combustible products - such as vapes - jumping 2.6 million to 16.1 million.