For the first time in its history tobacco giant Philip Morris has launched a UK-wide anti-smoking campaign. However, the £2m investment has been derided as nothing more than “PR puff” by health campaigners.
The Marlboro manufacturer announced earlier this year that it was "trying to give up cigarettes", saying it eventually wants to stop selling them in the UK in favour of shifting “better alternatives” like e-cigarettes and nicotine-free heated tobacco.
To support this, the brand has launched an initiative called ‘Hold My Light’ which will be targeted towards “potential smokers” as well as the current 7.4 million smokers in the UK, across online and print.
The push launched with a four-page wraparound in the Daily Mirror on Monday (22 October). It’s centred around the idea that smokers can go smoke-free with some practical support from close friends and family, which Philip Morris says can “increase their chance of succeeding”.
At the heart of it is a Mission Impossible-style video which shows a woman navigating a room filled with lasers to hand over her lighter to her friends. Viewers are directed to a website that contains a plan to help smokers give up cigarettes for an initial 30 days, supported by ‘pledges’ from their friends to help them stay motivated.
While Peter Nixon, Philip Morris’ managing director said the campaign broke new ground and was “an important next step in [Philip Morris] going smoke-free and ultimately stop selling cigarettes,” health campaigners have criticised the move -pointing out that the US firm still markets cigarettes in countries with more laxed ad rules than the UK.
In a statement, George Butterworth, Cancer Research UK's tobacco policy manager said: "This is a staggering hypocrisy… The best way Philip Morris could help people to stop smoking is to stop making cigarettes.”
Hazel Cheeseman, policy director of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), agreed, calling the campaign "PR puff".
"A massively profitable global tobacco company is selling the line that they've turned over a new leaf in an effort to flog their latest gadgets," she added.
Speaking to The Drum in June, Philip Morris chief exec Andre Calantzopoulos said he hoped the firm's smoke-free heated tobacco unit Iqos would "become the next Malboro".
Philip Morris recorded net revenues of $7.7bn for the first half of the year, saying that Iqos was performing well "notably in key markets such as the EU".