One of the world’s biggest tobacco companies has said it is “trying to give up cigarettes”. Philip Morris, which makes Marlboros and a host of other brands, placed full-page adverts in UK national newspapers this week promoting its “ambition to stop selling cigarettes in the UK”.
Like many tobacco firms, Philip Morris is moving towards a focus on new products to replace cigarettes which claim millions of lives each year.
E-cigarettes and so-called “heat-not-burn” tobacco products offer a way to generate future profits as increasing numbers of consumers turn against smoking.
The company said it had spent £2.5bn on research into smoke-free products which are thought to be less harmful to health.
The company also pledged to help local authorities with measures to support people trying to quit smoking and said it would seek Government approval to include information on quitting and switching in its cigarette packets.
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of health charity Action on Smoking and Health described the adverts as "a PR stunt".
She said the company would not be able to assist the Government in helping people quit as this would amount to a donation.
Tobacco companies aren't allowed to make donations to the Government.
"Rather than making donations," Ms Arnott said, "they should be forced to pay the Government more of their enormous profits".
The company's advert read: “Philip Morris is known for cigarettes. Every year, many smokers give them up. Now it's our turn."
“Our ambition is to stop selling cigarettes in the UK. It won't be easy. But we are determined to turn our vision into reality. There are 7.6 million adults in the UK who smoke. The best action they can take is to quit smoking,” it continued.
In December, an investigation by Reuters cited former Philip Morris insiders who reportedly questioned the quality of the company’s internal research backing the claim that its smoke-free products are less harmful than cigarettes.
The company defended its research and told the news agency that all of its studies were carried out by suitably qualified and trained professionals.
Peter Nixon, managing director of Philip Morris, said he believed the company had “an important role to play in helping the UK become smoke-free”.
“We recognise that never starting to smoke — or quitting altogether — are always the best option. But for those who continue to smoke, there are more alternatives than ever available in the UK,” he said.
The NHS website states that current research suggests e-cigarettes are significantly less harmful than smoking but adds that “we won’t have a full picture on their safety until they have been in use for many years”.
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