Thursday, 31 August 2017

Get your story straight

Philip Morris (PMI) are in the process of rolling out their heat-not-burn product IQOS around the world. The company has famously said that it wants to stop selling cigarettes once it has converted existing smokers to the reduced-harm device. On Tuesday they announced that three million smokers have already switched, mostly in Asia.

Nothing happens in the world of tobacco without anti-smoking campaigners trawling through the archives to find a shaky historical parallel. Last week, Stanton Glantz tried to poison the well of harm reduction with a bizarre article about PMI being in favour of nicotine gum (or something).

This week, Ruth Malone, the gormless editor of Tobacco Control, has piped up with an article titled '“It doesn’t seem to make sense for a company that sells cigarettes to help smokers stop using them”: A case study of Philip Morris’s involvement in smoking cessation'. The quote comes from a focus group member talking to a consultancy, but it may also reflect American anti-smoking zealots' view of IQOS.

The article is open access so you can read it here if you're bored, but there isn't much in it. The gist is that PMI's smoking cessation service QuitAssist was not to Malone's liking (apparently they resisted using 'anti-industry themes'. Well, duh.) My only reason for mentioning it is to flag up the following quote that was spotted by Sarah Jakes on Twitter.

A particularly notable absence [from PMI's QuitAssist program] was the lack of financial support to help smokers purchase NRT, the very action that consultants Bain and Company had argued would allow PM to have the largest impact on quit rates.

Do try to keep up, Ruth. You're behind the times. In the newly revised history of tobacco, PMI secretly approved of NRT (nicotine replacement therapy) from the early 1990s onwards because they knew it didn't work and it kept people smoking. We know this because Stanton Glantz said so in a peer-reviewed journal.

So if PMI wanted to undermine its own stop-smoking efforts, they should have been shovelling money at nicotine gum and patches. If they had done that, they would have been applauded by the tobacco control lobby while (supposedly) boosting cigarette consumption. Then they could have gone back to their underground lair to laugh demonically like the cartoon villains that they are.

But as you so rightly say, Ruth, they didn't do that. They chose not to hand out NRT as part of their smoking-cessation program which means that either Glantz's theory or your theory is a load of old toot.

Or, quite possibly, both.

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