Philip Morris says it may cease promoting cigarettes in Britain

A pack of Philip Morris International Inc. Marlboro Gold cigarettes seen in a tobacco shop.

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LONDON – Tobacco giant Philip Morris International has reportedly announced that it will cease selling cigarettes in the UK in 10 years.

It could end the cigarette maker’s flagship brand, Marlboro, and comes two years after the UK government announced that it would end smoking in England by 2030.

“I want to allow this company to quit smoking,” said Jacek Olczak, CEO of Philip Morris, in an interview with The Mail on Sunday. “I think in the UK, in ten years or less, you can completely solve the smoking problem.”

When asked if this meant the company would stop selling traditional cigarettes in the UK within that period, Olczak replied, “Absolutely.”

Campaign groups have highlighted that Philip Morris International has made similar statements in the past, only that very little has changed. Former Philip Morris International CEO André Calantzopoulos said in 2016 he hoped the company would stop selling cigarettes entirely.

Campaign groups also argue that tobacco giants, who have long denied the health risks of smoking, are advocating as part of the transition to a smoke-free world while selling and promoting cigarettes worldwide.

The World Health Organization describes the tobacco epidemic as “one of the greatest public health threats the world has ever faced”. According to the United Nations Health Authority, more than 8 million people die from smoking each year, including secondhand smoke.

“PMI can see a world without cigarettes – the sooner it happens, the better it is for everyone. Quitting is the best option, but for those who don’t, science and technology have enabled companies like ours to develop better alternatives to smoking, ”said Moira Gilchrist, director of global scientific communications at Philip Morris International, on Monday by email to CNBC.

“Encouraging people who keep switching to these better alternatives, along with strict regulation, will help solve the cigarette smoking problem once and for all. With the right measures, PMI can stop selling cigarettes in 10 years set in the UK. ” Time, “said Gilchrist.

Speaking to CNBC’s “Closing Bell” last week, Olczak tried to defend the company after it announced it would buy British pharmaceutical company Vectura Group for an enterprise value of US $ 1.2 billion.

The proposed acquisition has been criticized by anti-smoking groups and opposition lawmakers in the UK who believe a link between a tobacco company and a company specializing in inhaled drugs for conditions such as asthma is inappropriate.

“To be completely honest, nothing and no one will stop us in our transformation of leaving cigarettes behind,” said Olczak.

– CNBC’s Pia Singh contributed to this report.

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