Time for Philip Morris to do a Volvo 3

In the news this week we hear that the UK is to follow France’s lead in banning diesel and petrol cars due to the harm caused by air pollution.

Critics have pointed out that the 2040 date chosen is very far off in the future, and indeed it does look rather limp in comparison to the announcement by Volvo that it will stop making diesel cars (or petrol-only cars) in just two years’ time. Now that is the real deal. That is a concrete commitment to sit up and take notice of.

But why write about it on the Tobacco Unpacked blog? 

Well, because it stands in stark contrast to the offerings from Philip Morris International, “the world’s leading cigarette company”. 

Visitors to the PMI website cannot miss the dominant messaging: “Designing a smoke-free future” and “How long will the world’s leading cigarette company be in the cigarette business?”

That question is very pertinent. Because while the company is at pains to promote its commitment to “building PMI’s future on smoke-free products” and that “one day” lower risk products will replace cigarettes, one crucial thing is missing….. 

A date.

Corporations talking big about reducing the damage caused by their products can easily be accused of greenwash. Volvo has addressed that head-on by committing to end their involvement in the problem, and putting a none-too-distant timescale on it.

PMI on the other hand continues to produce and sell billions of cigarettes every year, and to encourage their consumption by advertising them. Until PMI makes a public commitment to cease these activities – and gives a timescale – they remain wide open to the charge that they will sell their new “less harmful” products in addition to conventional cigarettes rather than instead of. 

It’s time for PMI to do a Volvo.

(Header image from pexels.com)



  1. Just to play devil’s advocate,PMI (& the rest of the tobacco industry) are facing

    a) in the USA,deeming regulations that will wipe out all/most of the vaping industry, and

    b) in the EU,possible bans/medical regulation.The TackSHS project has assumed harm from ecigs seems intent on providing ‘research’ to prove it

    c) in a post-Brexit UK,any continuation of the current regulations is at the whim of the MHRA/DH and subject to lobbying by the pharma industry and the various wings of Tobacco Control

    d) these are the ‘liberal’ areas of the world – bans are commonplace elsewhere

    e) the tobacco industry’s one successful medicinal licence application was met with a decidedly frosty reception


    Yeah I think we have to be in no doubt whatsoever the tobacco industry’s job is to sell tobacco and so they are incredibly incentivised to keep people smoking. The fact that they’ve put a toe in the water or more than a toe in the water of the vaping market I think we must view with considerable suspicion. And I would say when it comes to using taxpayers’ money, for example, to pay for a licensed nicotine product owned by a tobacco company I would say well why would you do that? There are already products out there that we can be giving people that have a stronger evidence base than the new product that’s produced by the tobacco industry.”

    There appears still to be a majority who yearn for the elimination of all tobacco and nicotine so it is not surprising that the tobacco industry is proceeding cautiously….they don’t trust you

  2. A very interesting comparison John. Having high level ‘aims’ like those stated on the PMI website are pretty meaningless without a pathway to implementation and, as you rightly point out, a target date when they will be in place. While the UK and French government 2040 target for zero sales of petrol and diesel cars and LGVs is a long way away, they will quickly begin to change local and national policies and influence purchasing and infrastructural spending. Who is going to buy a diesel car by 2030 when any future re-sale value will be drastically reduced due to impending regulation?
    Government tobacco control policies tend to have very specific targets and dates – for example the Scottish Government committed to reducing by 50% the proportion of children exposed to second-hand smoke at home by 2020 (compared to 2012 levels). We need these very specific and measurable indicators to see if policies make a difference. Without a date PMI’s ‘aspiration’ of a ‘smoke-free future’ looks like little more than a marketing line; and it is worth pointing out that the number of people who currently smoke in the world has never been greater.

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