Philip Morris International Inc (NYSE:PM) has been blasted by public health campaigners for what they say is an attempt to “infiltrate” decision-making on the UK's policy towards vaping and other non-combustible smoking products.
A report released on Monday by the Guardian and Channel 4’s Dispatches revealed that the maker of Marlboro cigarettes had drawn up plans for a £1bn ‘tobacco transition fund’ that would provide local authorities and Public Health England with cash to persuade smokers to give up cigarettes in favour of non-combustible alternatives such as its IQOS ‘heat not burn’ tobacco product.
The documents also showed that PMI had held meetings with prominent anti-smoking MP Kevin Barron to discuss a smoke-free bill in the House of Commons which, if passed, would have also relaxed advertising regulations on alternative tobacco products such as IQOS.
Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), a pressure group that lobbies for greater restrictions on tobacco sales, said PMI’s proposals were “in direct contrast” to models proposed by leading health organisations to tackle smoking.
ASH chief executive Deborah Arnott said the plans for a fund sponsored by the tobacco giant were “completely unacceptable” and that the industry “should be made to pay, not allowed a seat at the Government policymaking table so it can ensure the fund is used to further the interests of its shareholders rather than public health”.
The group advocates a ‘polluter pays’ principle in which tobacco firms are forced to pay levies to fund quitting services. They say these payments should be decided with advice from public health experts and not with input from the industry.
“The [UK] government has a legal obligation not to partner with tobacco companies, and it must stick to its commitment not to do so”, Arnott said.
“Philip Morris supports the Government’s commitment to make England smoke-free by 2030. To realise this ambition, millions of current smokers need to be persuaded to quit altogether or switch to less harmful alternatives", the company said in a statement in response to the report.
"Critical to this will be putting in place a regulatory framework that ensures smokers have the facts about alternatives and that tobacco companies are pushed to phase out cigarettes. We have made this point time and time again to MPs, civil servants, local councillors, journalists, and the broader public. What this story really shows is that Philip Morris has been consistent in its efforts to make smoke-free 2030 a reality”, they added.
Analyst “cautious” on outlook for heated products
PMI’s need to boost sales of its heated tobacco products were put into sharper relief on Monday as analysts at Jefferies said they remained “cautious” around the outlook for the products in the near term.
The broker, which rates PMI at ‘hold’ with a target of US$83, said while they expected the heated products segment to become “significant” in the coming years, there were a number of areas including lower price points, a small number of growing markets and limited success in the EU which indicated that “growth could slow”.
Jefferies concluded that if growth in the company’s heated segment stalled there could be “a notable group slowdown” which could pressure the stock.
Shares in Philip Morris were 1.9% lower at US$88 in early trading in New York on Monday.
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