May 8, 2024

Corporate Accountability organizers address PMI executives at 2024 annual shareholders’ meeting.

The tobacco industry harms millions of people through its deadly products every year. Corporations like Philip Morris International are attempting to distance themselves from this reality and rebrand the industry. But the truth is: PMI continues to make its shareholders rich through cigarettes.

We attended the corporation’s annual shareholders’ meeting to make sure that as executives taut sales numbers and rattle off talking points, the corporations’ widespread abuse is not forgotten. Read below for statements that our team delivered directly to the board chair during the meeting.

Marlene Sauer, consultant and organizer at Corporate Accountability

Hello, my name is Marlene Sauer and I’m an organizer at Corporate Accountability.

Philip Morris International has made multiple public statements about its intention to stop selling cigarettes, focusing instead on its products like IQOS-Heets. However, PMI’s 10-K forms reveal the critical significance of its leading cigarette brand, Marlboro, to the corporation’s portfolio and the same has been revealed in previous year’s 10-K forms.

Marlboro is not only the top-selling international cigarette brand, but its dominance within Philip Morris International’s total cigarette shipment volume has been consistently growing, and is up from 33% in 2012 to 39% in 2023. This trend is mirrored in Marlboro’s share of the international cigarette market, which has seen a gradual increase from 9.3% in 2012 to 9.8% in 2023. These numbers suggest a deepening reliance on Marlboro cigarettes, underscoring the brand’s importance to PMI’s business strategy and raising questions about your corporation’s commitment to actually transitioning away from cigarette sales.

So my question is, how does PMI’s growing reliance on Marlboro sales align with its stated mission of leading a transformation in the tobacco industry away from traditional cigarettes?

Kofi Bulluck, major gifts organizer

Hello, my name is Kofi Bulluck and I’m an organizer at Corporate Accountability.

Philip Morris International(PMI) has said it stops marketing cigarettes once IQOS-Heets products are introduced to a market. Yet evidence shows that PMI continues to aggressively market Marlboro in Global South countries like Colombia, where IQOS was introduced in 2017. This case contradicts PMI’s stated commitment to encouraging traditional cigarette smokers to use IQOS products, and raises concerns about the sincerity of its transition towards supposedly less harmful products and adherence to marketing standards, especially regarding the exposure of minors to cigarette marketing.

PMI has made numerous public statements over the years expressing a commitment to move away from the cigarette business and towards a “smoke-free future.” Notably, in January 2018, PMI announced a New Year’s resolution to give up cigarettes. This is juxtaposed starkly against a February 2024 media report of the corporation building a new cigarette factory in Tanzania. Such actions raise critical questions regarding PMI’s public commitments versus its business strategies and practices, particularly in Global South countries.

As far back as 1972, PMI executives said they would stop production if they found out cigarettes were harmful. Yet here we are more than 40 years later: PMI’s dependence on Marlboro is only growing and PMI continues to face reiterative accusations of marketing cigarettes to minors and engaging in practices counter to this “smoke-free vision.”

These outstanding discrepancies lead to my question today:
How does PMI reconcile its publicly stated aspirations for a smoke-free future with its continuous investments in cigarette production facilities and activities, like the new cigarette factory in Tanzania?

Nomi Martin-Brouillette, major gifts organizer

Hello, my name is Nomi Martin-Brouillette and I’m an organizer at Corporate Accountability.

It’s well known to everyone in this meeting that the consumption of or exposure to tobacco products is extremely dangerous. However, Philip Morris International (PMI) continues to have huge and concerning discrepancies between its public statements versus its real life actions in regard to ethical concerns and regulatory compliance. It appears that PMI is merely conducting a PR campaign where the corporation states one thing publicly, but its actions do not mirror its words nor what you are reporting back year after year in these meetings.

PMI executives may say one thing for the sake of the corporation’s image, but either PMI workers in-country do not actually follow the directives of the CEO or other PMI executives, or your corporation is outright lying. One such example of this is in Global South countries like Colombia where our organization has countless pictures of PMI marketing its products right next to displays for candy and childrens toys, at the eye level of children, not adults. Either PMI is lying about not marketing to children, or employees in countries like Colombia are not following the instructions of PMI’s global executives. This is compounded by instances such as fines in countries like Brazil “for targeting youth,” and the corporation’s involvement in controversies, and in some jurisdictions lawsuits, over driving the climate crisis to overwhelming the ocean with plastic pollution.

There appears to be a point of disconnection between the corporation’s leadership and its operational workforce, highlighting issues of internal coordination or alignment with the corporation’s stated objectives.

If PMI’s leadership is perceived publicly as being indifferent or unconcerned about these discrepancies or ethical lapses, it could signify a lack of accountability within upper management. It could also potentially lead to lawsuits and a decline in revenue long-term.

So my questions are:
1. When will PMI actually stop marketing to children in Global South countries like Colombia where there is ample and concerning evidence that it continues to do so?
2. Is PMI facing a lack of accountability at higher management levels, which could exacerbate the corporation’s credibility challenges?

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