Q&A

Are you out to make tobacco fashionable again?

Definitely not. The smoke-free initiative is about helping adults who would otherwise continue smoking consider better alternatives. If there were a magic button that would get everyone around the world instantaneously to stop smoking and never start again, someone would have pushed it long ago. That button doesn’t exist. What do exist are new technologies that can give current adult smokers who don’t quit a better option. Why wouldn’t you leverage that for the benefit of this large population?

Have you lost friends and acquaintances since you accepted a role at PMI?

I spent a good deal of time talking to friends about my decision—both before and after I made it. I had no intention of taking the job when PMI first approached me, and it took several months for me to recognize how powerful this position is: I’ve been given a chance to participate in a journey that could help address a global public health problem. How do you pass that up? I’ve earned enough career success in my lifetime. Why not spend my “third act” making a difference in the lives of as many people as possible?

Not all of my friends and former colleagues initially understood my choice, but people know that I’ve always had a passion to create positive change and that I believe this position gives me that chance. So, while they were surprised by my choice, almost all have been supportive—and quite a few of them have remarked that if anyone has the brass to make a smoke-free world happen, it’s me.

 What do you say to people who criticize you for working in such a controversial industry?

I understand people’s strong feelings about tobacco and tobacco companies. Believe me, it was painful to watch my father, who was a longtime smoker, die of lung cancer. What I say to such people is that I could easily have chosen to work in another industry. My skill set is highly portable. I joined PMI because I believe wholeheartedly in its vision. I want smoking cigarettes to be a thing of the past, a relic that needs to be explained in the future the way rotary phones are explained today. I joined a company with a critical mission from the perspective of public health: Offering smokers who do not quit the opportunity to make a better choice.

Are you responsible for creating the next generation of nicotine-addicted youth?

If I thought that were even a remote possibility, I never would have taken this job. What I’m responsible for is helping to realize PMI’s vision of a smoke-free future. That means moving current adult smokers away from cigarettes—whether by quitting cigarettes and nicotine altogether (the preferable option) or switching to less harmful alternatives. There are a billion smokers around the world. This number needs to decrease. Smoke-free products are only for adult smokers who would otherwise continue smoking; nonsmokers and youth should not use any tobacco- or nicotine-containing products at all.

Do you consider it career suicide to take a job at PMI?

Not at all. Joining PMI wasn’t a stepping stone for me; it’s a capstone—a chance to positively impact the lives of millions of people. Earlier in my career, I might have worried about joining a controversial industry. A nice thing about aging is that you gain the freedom to do what you know is right, regardless of how others might think.

That said, when I ask someone to join PMI today, I always advise them to take a week to discuss it with their family and also to think long and hard about where they want to go should they end up leaving the company. Is it possible to go straight from PMI to the United Nations? To Unilever? I honestly don’t know. I think it would depend in large part on the candidate’s capabilities of course, but also how much a potential employer knows about the new PMI. If they consider it part of Big Tobacco, that could be a black mark against the applicant. If they understand PMI’s radical transformation and vision of a smoke-free world, that’s a different story.

Is the science behind PMI real, or is this campaign merely a plot to make money off of new nicotine and tobacco products?

If it’s a plot, it’s awfully elaborate! PMI shares all the clinical studies behind its smoke-free products with scientists, public health and regulatory communities, and others with an interest in tobacco policy through www.ClinicalTrials.gov. And important elements of our science are being confirmed by more than 30 independent studies and reviews. Among those are reviews conducted by governmental authorities in Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Russia, U.S. and U.K.

Are you still a trendspotter? What trend prompted you to take this job?

I will be a trendspotter until the day I die. It’s in my blood. I recognized long ago that I can’t shop for groceries, crowd watch or surf the web without instinctively looking for patterns. I am endlessly fascinated by people’s experiences and motivations, and I love piecing together clues to figure out what everyone’s going to be doing next. If there’s a particular trend that prompted me to take this job, it’s probably the movement to look for “better choices” for consumers, including reentering into civilized conversation when it comes to tobacco.

Like many people, my grocery shopping has become more conscious over time. I pay more attention to ingredients lists, to product functionality and to what the companies behind the brands are doing. That probably extends to most things I buy. I prefer clothing and household goods made sustainably and ethically, for example. Shopping takes a lot more thought that it used to! I consider PMI’s smoke-free products an extension of this trend: a better alternative for those adults who would otherwise continue smoking.

Marian Salzman - A globally recognized Trendspotter

Do you smoke? Have you ever smoked?

No. I tried cigarettes once, many years ago, and soon realized they were not for me.

Is PMI trying to lure nonsmokers to start?

No. There are more than a billion smokers in the world. The push is not to get more people to take up tobacco. It’s to persuade current adult smokers to quit altogether or—if they don’t—to switch to a better alternative backed by solid science.

Isn’t PMI just interested in its bottom line? Why would they transform a lucrative business model?

First and foremost, because it is the right thing to do. Moving current adult smokers away from combustible cigarettes is a better choice for them—and is better for public health. It is also an opportunity for our business, because it allows us to respond to societal concerns about our products while gaining a competitive edge. It is at once visionary and challenging. But it is a win-win for our company and for society.

Philip Morris has been quiet for nearly 20 years, why communicate now?

I’m only half joking when I tell people I’m on a mission to help PMI reenter civilized society. For too long, in my opinion, PMI has existed outside the public discourse. We need to change that.

As a company, we need to engage people in conversation about getting rid of combustible cigarettes and creating a smoke-free world. Modern technology, science and innovation have provided adult smokers alternatives that are a better choice for public health. But that positive change faces two major challenges: First, the laws related to tobacco were designed two or three decades ago, when smoke-free products didn’t exist. As such, they don’t always enable adult smokers to receive accurate information about these new alternatives. How can you make the decision to switch to a better alternative if you’ve never even heard of it? In some countries, smokers don’t even have access to these new products, because they are banned. The second challenge is related to ideological opposition to the industry and a general lack of understanding of what smoke-free products are—their benefits and risks.

Staying silent isn’t an option. We need to provide information, get people talking and accelerate positive change. Adults who continue to smoke and those who care about them deserve this. So, the short answer is: We have stepped out of the shadows into the spotlight because starting a dialogue is the only way we’re going to be able to achieve our vision of a smoke-free world.

What makes you the right spokesperson to be communicating PMI’s vision of a smoke-free future?

Beyond my expertise as a communicator, I’m the right spokesperson because I believe wholeheartedly in PMI’s vision of a smoke-free future. Technology, science and innovation can make a dramatic difference for public health. I want to play a role in this change. It’s why I took the job in the first place, and it’s what keeps me motivated day to day.

More than 80 percent of PMI’s revenue still comes from cigarette sales. How can you say you are transforming the company if you’re still almost completely in the cigarette business?

What people need to understand is that replacing cigarettes with smoke-free products will take time. It isn’t something we can impose on current adult smokers; they need to make that choice themselves. As PMI works to persuade current adult smokers who don’t quit to make this better choice, we will need allies to work alongside us. We’re looking to governments, for instance, to create policies that will enable a sensible plan for the large population of existing adult smokers, who will, in any given year, continue smoking. Indeed, that will encourage them to switch completely rather than continue with cigarettes. These are early days still, and it’s my job to speed up the transition. The more people and organizations—governments, health authorities, NGOs—who share in our vision, the faster we’ll realize our goal. In countries fully committed to change, we’re hopeful that we’ll see the complete replacement of cigarettes within the foreseeable future.

Why doesn’t PMI simply stop selling combustible cigarettes?

If PMI were to stop selling cigarettes today, it wouldn’t cause a single person to stop smoking. There are plenty of other suppliers out there. What it would do is negatively impact local and even some national economies—and even more so, the lives and livelihoods of our approximatively 77,000 employees and their families, farmers and others. And all that pain and disruption wouldn’t make a bit of difference to public health.