Marlboro-maker chief calls for ban on cigarettes

Head of Philip Morris International says it will stop selling traditional products in the UK from 2030

Philip Morris is behind the world-renowned Marlboro Man. The campaign was conceived by an advertising agency in 1954. Alamy
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The head of the company behind the Marlboro tobacco brand has called for traditional cigarettes to be banned by 2030 and said his company will stop selling them in the UK by 2030.

Philip Morris International chief executive Jacek Olczak also defended the company's planned $1.2 billion purchase of British pharmaceutical giant Vectura Group, a move that has been criticised by anti-smoking campaigners.

"We can see the world without cigarettes. And actually, the sooner it happens, the better it is for everyone," he told The Mail on Sunday.

"With the right regulation and information it can happen 10 years from now in some countries. And you can solve the problem once and forever."

Clive Black, an analyst with Shore Capital, said traditional tobacco companies such as Philip Morris were facing a "perfect storm" of increasing government regulation combined and changing consumer tastes.

Tobacco companies have in recent years focused on new products such as e-cigarettes in advanced economies, while tobacco was still being targeted to young adults in developing countries, he said.

"Whichever way you cut it the long term barriers to tobacco companies is only going to grow and grow," he told The National.

"There’s been a structural change in the consumption of tobacco, not just in the UK, but many old economies for many years."

He predicted cigarettes would still be sold in the UK but at a much smaller volume than the industry's heyday, with Office for National Statistics figures showing that in 1974 an estimated 46 per cent of adults in Britain identified as smokers

"It's quite a significant moment when a brand like Marlboro announce they believe they will not be on shelves in 10 years' time," Mr Black said.

Mr Olczak compared traditional cigarettes to petrol and diesel-powered vehicles, which will be banned from sale in the UK by 2030.

His comments are part of Philip Morris's attempts to reinvent itself.

The company behind the decades-long Marlboro Man advertising campaign plans for 50 per cent of its net revenue to come from non-smoking products by 2025 - including $1bn from its Beyond Nicotine respiratory drug delivery and wellness range.

However, while it continues to sell cigarettes, which the World Health Organisation says kill nearly eight million people globally each year, its anti-smoking message has been derided by campaigners as meaningless and dangerous. Philip Morris's $7.59bn of revenue from the second quarter of this year will not dampen their criticism.

"The industry has a long history of subverting tobacco control policies for its own financial gain, both in the UK and globally," Ian Walker, an executive director at Cancer Research, said.

Big Tobacco fights back

The proposed acquisition of Vectura is part of Philip Morris's "wellness" drive, and is the target of swingeing criticism. The FTSE 250 pharmaceutical firm makes products for the NHS designed to wean people off cigarettes.

Yet Philip Morris chairman André Calantzopoulos believes moves to block Big Tobacco's diversification into pharmaceuticals would be counterproductive, leaving the industry no alternative but to continue selling cigarettes, "the point [that] we are actually trying to leave!”

Big Tobacco companies also believe that calls to stop selling cigarettes immediately are misjudged and that the void would be filled with counterfeit products - as happened during a smoking ban in South Africa last year.

So while campaigners see the industry's refusal to disavow its cigarette-making arm as bad faith, the industry believes evolution is the only way forward.

“Deadlines are important at a certain stage, so people [companies] know how much horizon they have,” Mr Calantzopoulos said.

“It is not different from what [is being done] with alternative energies or with electric cars … [But you need to] stop the confusion that currently exists in the minds of smokers.”

Updated: July 26, 2021, 3:10 PM