Tobacco Giant’s Sweeping Campaign Against Vaping Crackdown

The growth of vaping worldwide has been exponential over the past few years. And subsequently, so has the growth of restrictions on vaping use and sale. But while many doctors and advocates are concerned about the harm e-cigarettes cause, tobacco giants aren’t taking the paradigm shift lying down.

One such company, Philip Morris International (PMI), has been undertaking a large-scale campaign worldwide to combat governments cracking down on vaping products. PMI is perhaps best known as the company behind Marlboro cigarettes; more than that, they’re the world’s biggest tobacco company by sales.

But like much of the industry, PMI has been pivoting away from traditional cigarettes and towards smoke-free products, as regulations get tighter worldwide.

Last year, with the volume of their combustible tobacco products down 27%, they made AUD$10.19 billion from products like e-cigarettes and heated tobacco. By 2025, they want close to 40% of their total revenue to come from sales of smoke-free products.

WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control

Back in 2003, the World Health Organisation established its framework convention on tobacco control (FCTC) to try and curb the demand and supply of tobacco products by providing evidence-based measures and guidelines to ratifying countries. Today, the FCTC is the main international channel for regulations around vaping.

According to documents seen by Reuters and the Guardian, however, PMI is less-than-happy with the FCTC’s efforts, and has been engaging in a multifaceted campaign to block or weaken its requirements. In an internal document from 2014, Reuters reports, PMI refers to the FCTC as a “regulatory runaway train” helmed by “anti-tobacco extremists”.

And PMI executives have continued to use similar rhetoric over the past decade. A message sent in September, seen by the Guardian, claims that “WHO’s agenda is nothing short of a systematic, methodical, prohibitionist attack on smoke-free products.”

That missive, sent by PMI’s senior VP of external affairs Grégoire Verdaux, refers to the agenda of the upcoming FCTC, which will be held in Panama next month. The convention will discuss the possibilities for regulation, including taxation, of smoke-free products

Tobacco companies aren’t invited. But that’s not stopping PMI, says Verdeaux, who will travel to Panama “to publicly denounce the absurdity of being excluded from it while PMI today is undoubtedly the most helpful private partner WHO could have in the fight against smoking.”

While the FCTC’s Article 5.3 compels signatories like the Australian government to limit interactions with the industry and its partners, tobacco companies continue to exert influence on politics, at home and abroad.

The international pro-vaping group Health Diplomats, supported by British American Tobacco (BAT) was added to the federal lobbyist register in February. Both PMI and BAT sought to overturn Australia’s vaping ban through submissions to this year’s parliamentary inquiry.

And research has described tobacco companies utilising “the revolving door between government and industry as a tactic to try and influence public health policymaking in Australia.” Approximately half of tobacco company lobbyists have held government positions before or after working in the industry.

Controls over vaping products will keep tightening. But in line with statements like Verdaux’s, lobbyists and the tobacco companies they represent will continue to champion “the historic opportunity for public health presented by the recognition that smoke-free products, appropriately regulated, can accelerate the decline of smoking rates…”

Cover photo by E-Liquids UK on Unsplash.

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