Corporate Accountability team and partners confronted Philip Morris International’s executives and shareholders during its annual meeting about its attempts to healthwash its image and its harmful marketing practices. Below are a few of the statements from the meeting.
Sarah Kravette, masters student in public health
Philip Morris International is attempting to healthwash its image and rebrand itself as a “consumer wellness and healthcare company.” I want to be clear, you are not a health and wellness company: the majority of your company’s profits come from the production and sale of cigarettes, a product that kills someone’s mother, brother, cousin every four seconds. This adds up to millions of deaths each year globally. PMI is attempting to profit from both the poisons it peddles and the cures, in order to continue expanding its deadly business.
Working with Philip Morris International is toxic. This was made evident just a few months ago, when the Canadian government and Medicago Inc cut financial ties with Philip Morris, ending your involvement in their joint COVID-19 vaccine venture. This partnership was widely recognized as a marketing scheme designed to bolster PMI’s image, despite your corporation’s deadly abuses. And it was in blatant violation of Article 5.3 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the world’s only public health treaty. That’s why this vaccine was, rightly, rejected for global distribution by the World Health Organization due to its connection with you. Any junior-level risk manager could have seen the W.H.O. ruling coming from miles away, given this venture’s blatant violation of an international treaty. And in the end, PMI proved to be a poison pill for both the vaccine and its maker, ultimately sinking Medicago entirely. Clearly, your attempts to hide your deadly abuses behind pharmaceutical investments and related false schemes of corporate social responsibility are even becoming a financial and reputational liability for other corporations.
If PMI actually wants to help regarding COVID-19, any other global crisis, or promote health and wellness globally, the first thing that this corporation must do is pay for the damages and harms it causes and has profited from, in line with Article 19 of the global tobacco treaty.
My question for you today is: How can Philip Morris International claim to be a health and wellness company when so much of your revenue comes from cigarettes, and shouldn’t shareholders be concerned if these misleading claims make it toxic for others to partner with you?
Nina Wolff Landau, organizer at Corporate Accountability
Back in 2021, Philip Morris International’s current CEO Jacek announced the corporation’s ambition for smoke-free products to account for more than fifty percent of your total net revenues by 2025. However, your corporation mentioned in your 10k form that as of December 31, 2022, these products accounted for less than one-third of your total net revenues and in fact that percentage has hardly changed since 2020. Your portfolio is led by Marlboro—according to your Form 10k report, “the world’s best-selling international cigarette”—which accounted for approximately 39% of your total 2022 cigarette shipment volume. It is clear, but not surprising, that your corporation is not going to reach your target, because PMI’s business is selling cigarettes.
Several times during these meetings, people have asked your corporation about your marketing practices in countries where all forms of tobacco advertising is banned. The answer is always that PMI follows the laws where it operates.
But PMI is introducing and promoting new variants of the Marlboro brand, particularly in the Global South, even in countries where tobacco marketing is banned. For example, in Colombia, PMI uses messages like, “New image, same flavor,” or “Dare to discover it,” and places these products close to candies and toys, making these more appealing to kids. And then PMI goes out and buys newspaper ads saying that your corporation is going to stop selling cigarettes.
My question for you today is: If PMI actually follows the law, and if your corporation actually wants to stop the sale of cigarettes, why does your corporation continue introducing new variants of Marlboro cigarettes in Global South countries?
Irene Reyes, Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA)
I’m Irene Reyes from the Philippines. In 2019, Philip Morris’ Unsmoke campaign was launched in the Philippines. While the campaign acknowledges the harmful effects of smoking, Philip Morris combustibles continue to be promoted even more aggressively in my country. For instance, I recently noticed that small provision shops called sari sari stores, received new sponsored Marlboro sign boards and that Marlboro cigarettes are being sold for as little as 5 pesos a stick, that is about 10 cents each. Unfortunately, it is often the poor people and their children who buy these single sticks.
As a result of such promotions, more cigarettes will be sold in the Philippines compared to last year. It is contradictory to claim to be working towards a smoke-free society while simultaneously offering promotions and incentives to shopkeepers to sell even more cigarettes.
About 117,000 people die each year in the Philippines from smoking-related diseases. Considering that Philip Morris has the dominant cigarette market share in the Philippines, the bulk of smokers would have smoked Philip Morris cigarettes. It is time to take responsibility and pay compensation for lives lost from smoking-related diseases.
I have 2 questions: 1) How much are you spending on promoting cigarettes in the Philippines? 2) Now that you are agreeing that smoking is harmful, what are you willing to pay for each Filipino life lost from smoking?
Duaa Mirza, Global Youth Advocate against Tobacco in Pakistan
I am a Global Youth Advocate against Tobacco from Pakistan. Pakistan is ranked 54th amongst 84 countries with high prevalence of tobacco smoking. Almost 24 million (19.1 percent) of adults currently use tobacco. We have 163,000 deaths every year due to tobacco. According to a WHO GAT survey, 1,200 young lads from age 8 to 15 start tobacco every day. According to PIDE, Pakistan is having a financial loss of 615 billion to its economy due to the health cost burden. After all this, Do you really think it’s not hazardous?
*Statement was not read at PMI meeting due to time constraints.
Manik Marganamahendra, Global Youth Advocate against Tobacco in Indonesia
More than 8 million people die each year which is caused by tobacco consumption and shockingly, 1 million of them are not smoking actively. This harmful product is sold cheaply in developing countries and gets children hooked, tragic!
In Indonesia, Marlboro Crafted Authentic, a pack with only 12 sticks of cigarettes are sold in a pack for only Rp 8.000 or just around 50 cents. And this is appealing to children, they easily can buy from their pocket money. And Philip Morris is targeting children and youth!!! You know the younger the customer is the longer they will be addicted.
Not just health but your corporation also harms and creates an intergenerational problem for us, the people and the planet. Other than that, your toxic and deadly products have damaged our environment.
This means that your industry also contributes to carbon emission that causes today’s climate crisis.
After listening to your presentation, I’m disgusted with your confidence to keep producing this harmful product. And you even developed a new product, IQOS, in Indonesia. Such a greedy industry. You are deliberately weakening the process of strong regulations in Indonesia and use the weak regulations to keep profiting by poisoning Indonesian children and people. Shame on you!!
Do you know that all of the impacts due to your business is an irreversible loss that even your big money could not repair and still you keep running from your responsibilities to society. So, my question for you is, when will you stop this irreversible damage?
*Statement was not read at PMI meeting due to time constraints.