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My one-day Moodie Davitt Report Interim Neuchâtel Bureau offers the most beautiful views of Lake Neuchâtel. Or it would if I hadn’t brought the English weather with me. I’ve stopped off here, an old haunt (in every sense) from my recent corporate past, during a whistle-stop Swiss tour with Philip Morris International to discover more about the company’s exciting new world of heat-not-burn tobacco products.
My purpose here is to follow up on my early January report on the company’s extraordinary campaign for and commitment to a smokeless future. At the turn of the year, Philip Morris International (PMI) took out major advertising slots in several UK newspapers and announced, “Our New Year’s Resolution: We’re trying to give up cigarettes.”
It seemed the most unlikely catch cry. “Philip Morris is known for cigarettes,” the company said. “Every year, many smokers give them up. Now it’s our turn.”
As I wrote at the time (perhaps prophetically in the first case at least), “On the face of it such a resolution is right up there with Korean leader Kim Jong-un vowing to give up dictatorship; America’s National Rifle Association pledging to only use water pistols; or, if you’ll bear with the analogy, Donald Trump promising to stop tweeting. And as the old adage has it, a New Year’s resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other.”
But I promise you that PMI is deadly serious about this initiative. “No cigarette company
has done anything like this before,” it noted in the advertisements. “You might wonder if we really mean it. We do.” To prove the point, the company listed a series of measures it is introducing, including:
• Launching a website and campaign to provide smokers with information on quitting and on
alternatives to cigarettes;
• Offering support to local authorities’ cessation services where smoking rates are highest;
• Seeking government approval to insert information on quitting and on switching into cigarette packs;
• Expanding the availability of new, alternative products in the UK.
“Many will continue to smoke,” it continued. “That’s why we want to replace cigarettes with products such as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco, which are a better choice for the millions of men and women in the UK who would otherwise not stop smoking.” The company claims to have invested £2.5 billion (US$3.6 billion) on alternative product research and development. I will be seeing the results of that investment today during a tour of the scientific facilities.
It’s not just happening in the UK. PMI’s much-touted new heated tobacco product, IQOS, is now in over 30 countries. And it’s increasingly visible in duty free, notably in the Dufry stores at Zurich Airport and Lagardere Travel Retail (Aelia) shops at Geneva Airport that I’m visiting on this trip.
I consider this initiative (and it is not confined to PMI) one of the most profound shifts that the travel retail channel has ever undergone. It’s just at the beginning but it is going to become an irresistible wave.
It’s an initiative to be applauded, to be championed. It potentially turns a deeply troubled category into a resurgent one. Why do I think that? Wait for my major report in coming weeks. For once our industry is (positively) disrupting itself, rather than playing the role of passive disruptee. As PMI says, “This changes everything.”