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?
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 to deliver one of the biggest changes public health has ever seen: we want to eliminate cigarettes and replace them with smoke-free alternatives, providing adult smokers/men and women who smoke and who would otherwise continue smoking with the opportunity to make a much 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 for those who don’t, changing 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.
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, the U.K., and the U.S.
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 toward “better choices” for consumers.
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.
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 change to a better alternative to continued smoking backed by solid science.
Philip Morris has been quiet for nearly 20 years, why communicate now?
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 change to a better alternative to smoking 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, and with the right support of stakeholders across society, we’re hopeful that we could see the complete replacement of cigarettes within as little as 10 to 15 years.
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.