There are some gaps no amount of PR—or even rebranding—can bridge.
Phillip Morris International, the U.S. parent company of such cigarette brands as Marlboro, is looking to switch its business model to focus on vaping. The company recently launched “Hold my light,” a campaign that calls on smokers to quit using cigarettes.
The move is part of the company’s attempt to reinvent itself as regulators crack down on the sale and use of tobacco products.
The company has pivoted towards marketing smoking alternatives in recent years, with the company’s online manifesto saying it is “designing a smoke-free future.”
Mark MacGregor, Corporate Affairs Director UK and Ireland at Philip Morris International, told CNN the company was “surprised” at the criticism of its campaign. MacGregor said: “This campaign is designed to stop people smoking and to give up cigarettes as fast as possible.
“If we simply stopped selling cigarettes tomorrow, literally all that would happen is that smokers would switch to our competitors’ products,” he added.
The new campaign is drawing criticism from cancer watchdogs, however.
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health, said: “Wherever it’s legal, Philip Morris is still advertising its Marlboro brand. The fact of the matter is that it can no longer do that in the UK; we’re a dark market where all advertising, promotion and sponsorship is banned, and cigarettes are in plain packs.
“So, instead, Philip Morris is promoting the company name, which is inextricably linked with Marlboro. That’s why we’re suspicious. If Philip Morris really wanted a smoke-free world, it would support every country having tobacco regulations as strict as those in the UK.”
Dan Cullen-Shute, chief executive of Creature, rejected the company’s moves, decrying it as “faux-worthy, ‘we’re just trying to help’ bullshit”.
He added: “The toxic death-stick salesmen have been banned from advertising their toxic death-sticks, and so have suddenly had a massive epiphany and realised that they don’t really want people to buy their toxic death-sticks anyway. They want them to stop buying toxic death-sticks full stop and to buy some of their other less toxic death-sprays (‘now with less death!’) because it’s getting tougher and tougher to scrape a massive death profit in the markets that have finally got round to regulating them.”
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Phillip Morris is no longer allowed to advertise cigarettes, nor other tobacco products, in the U.K. due to a new law. Some critics say the new anti-smoking campaign is the company’s sneaky attempt to bypass the restrictions.
Earlier in 2018 the company attracted criticism from the Government for writing to NHS trusts and offering to provide cigarette alternatives to staff to help them quit.
George Butterworth, from Cancer Research UK, said: “This is a staggering hypocrisy from a tobacco company to promote its own smoking cessation products in the UK, while continuing to promote tobacco cigarettes across the world.
A media interview promoting the initiative went over poorly with some:
— Lara Stanley (@laramstanley) October 22, 2018
Peter Nixon from Phillip Morris is getting quite the BBC coverage today on @BBCBreakfast and @BBCr4today. If he’s so keen for people to quit smoking his company should probably just stop making cigarettes.
— Kirstie McCrum (@kirstiemccrum) October 22, 2018
Others doubt Phillip Morris can overcome its smoky history:
I find it difficult to see Phillip Morris being preceived positively!! https://t.co/qVDCWpuj4R
— Mark (@Mark_Aion) October 22, 2018
The company stands by its initiative.
The Independent wrote:
Peter Nixon, managing director of Philip Morris Limited, said: “There are more options than ever before for smokers to give up cigarettes but often they don’t realise that alternatives like e-cigarettes and heated tobacco are a better choice than continuing to smoke.
“Our research has shown that smokers want personal support from friends and family if they are to give up cigarettes – and that is what Hold My Light is designed to offer.”
What do you think of the campaign, PR Daily readers?