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Marlboro Maker Philip Morris Says It Wants to Quit Cigarettes. Anti-Smoking Advocates Are Skeptical

January 4, 2018, 5:37 PM UTC

Philip Morris International (PMI), the Big Tobacco giant behind popular brand name cigarettes like Marlboro and Parliament has made what it calls a “dramatic decision”—to eventually stop selling cigarettes altogether in order to achieve a “smoke-free” future.

Dramatic, indeed! And the company’s newly released anti-cigarette manifesto already has some anti-smoking advocates raising their eyebrows given Philip Morris’ historical opposition to certain tobacco control efforts.

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This isn’t the first time the company has voiced such ambitions. CEO Andre Calantzopoulos lauded a new Food and Drug Administration (FDA) initiative to limit the level of nicotine in cigarettes, and the company announced it was pledging $1 billion to help fight traditional, burn-based smoking last September.

There’s been a market trend away from traditional cigarettes to devices like e-cigarettes and those which slowly heat and roast, rather than burn, tobacco. And Philip Morris may simply be attempting to invest in that trend (while boasting of its public health benefit). “We’re building PMI’s future on smoke-free products that are a much better choice than cigarette smoking. Indeed, our vision—for all of us at PMI – is that these products will one day replace cigarettes,” read the company’s new anti-cigarette announcement.

But PMI still has some work to do if organizations like the tobacco-free Truth Initiative are going to buy its position. “If Philip Morris is truly committed to a smoke-free future, it should immediately take two steps: 1) Actively support the policies to reduce cigarette smoking that are endorsed by the public health community and an international public health treaty, the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control; and 2) set an example for the tobacco industry by stopping all marketing of cigarettes,” wrote Truth Initiative in a statement. The group pointed to Philip Morris’ historical opposition to higher tobacco taxes and graphic warning labels on cigarette packaging, two policies that public health experts say help slash the number of smoking-related deaths.

Cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths in the United States per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Another 41,000 occur annually because of secondhand smoke. The question of whether—or at least how much—vaping is better than smoking for health hasn’t exactly been settled, either.