The top executive of Philip Morris International Inc. has asked governments around the world to make cigarettes obsolete by replacing them with less harmful smoke-free alternatives.
PMI CEO Jacek Olczak, in his remarks to global media, politicians and policymakers at UnHerd Club in London on May 23, 2023, said “cigarettes belong in museums”, but current policies to reduce smoking prevalence were not working fast enough and might be prolonging smoking.
He called on countries to follow the examples of Sweden, Japan and the U.K. in adopting policies that give adult smokers who don’t quit a wide choice of alternatives to continuing smoking so they can make better choices and cigarettes can become a historical artifact.
Olczak, drawing upon a new hypothetical model based on World Health Organization data, estimates and methods, said even if smoke-free products were only 80 percent less risky than cigarettes, if people who currently smoke were to switch to them completely, then over their lifetime there’s a potential for a tenfold reduction in smoking-attributable deaths compared with historical tobacco control measures alone.
He underscored the absurd paradox that smoke-free products are banned in some countries while cigarettes—despite their far greater risk of harm—can still be sold. He said while this model has limitations and is built on assumptions, the public health cost of ignoring the potential of smoke-free products could be immense.
PMI committed to moving away from cigarettes in 2016. The company has invested more than $10.5 billion as of March 31, 2023 since 2008 to develop and commercialize smoke-free products—which today account for nearly 35 percent of the company’s total net revenues.
Olczak said the mission is to reduce smoking by replacing cigarettes with less harmful alternatives and ultimately to make cigarettes obsolete.
He said, however, PMI’s ability to progress on this mission is being frustrated by a combination of blind opposition from anti-tobacco organizations and governments’ overreliance on the so-called precautionary principle, which some interpret as “better not to do anything until we know everything.”
Olczak also challenged anti-tobacco organizations to update their thinking, stop blocking innovation, and work toward a common goal to achieve a smoke-free future faster.
“We’ve all heard the line, ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Despite often restrictive regulations, high product prices, marketing bans, and packaging designed to discourage buying, today public health data show that a billion people worldwide choose to smoke. Not to menton public health campaigns—and even companies like mine—urging people not to smoke,” he said.
He said the persistence of high smoking rates globally is evidence that the current approach to ending cigarette use is not working quickly enough and yet the most common response to the problem is more of the same.
“It’s time to try something else. To try a more inclusive and innovative approach, one that has been proven in several countries around the world and that has the potential to significantly accelerate an end to cigarettes,” Olczak said.