July 24, 2024

The tobacco company Philip Morris International has been accused of “manipulating science for profit” by funding research and advocacy with scientists.

Campaigners say that documents from PMI have been leaked and its Japanese subsidiary is also unveiling plans to target politicians, doctors and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as part of the multinational’s marketing strategy to attract non-smokers to its heated tobacco product, IQOS.

Japan is a launch market for IQOS, and Stop tobacco organizations and products (Stop), a tobacco industry watchdog, said it suspected PMI would apply the blueprint elsewhere.

A dadper of researchers at the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath said that Philip Morris Japan (PMJ), funded a Kyoto University study on smoking cessation via a third-party research organization.

The researchers said they could find no public record of PMJ’s involvement, although a PMI spokesman said his involvement was attributed when the results were presented at a scientific conference in Greece in 2021.

PMJ paid around £20,000 a month to FTI-Innovations, a life science consultancy run by a University of Tokyo professor, for tasks such as promoting PMI’s science and products at academic events. In one internal email, a PMJ employee claimed they were told “to keep it a secret”.

Philip Morris’ IQOS devices at a store in Tokyo. A tobacco industry watchdog said PMI appeared to be trying to get IQOS allowed where smoking was banned. Photo: Akio Kon/Getty

The paper, published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research, is based on 24 leaked company documents, dated between 2012 and 2020.

“These activities resemble known strategies to influence the conduct, publication and reach of science, and conceal scientific activities,” the researchers said.

Dr Sophie Braznell, one of its authors, said: “The manipulation of science for profit harms us all, especially policy makers and consumers trying to make potentially life-changing decisions. It delays and undermines public health policy, while encouraging the widespread use of harmful products.”

Braznell said the leaked documents undermined claims made by PMI to carry out “transparent science”, and called for reforms to the funding and management of tobacco research “to protect science from vested corporate interests”.

In a separate report on the company’s marketing activities, also based on leaked documents, Stop said PMJ appeared to be pushing for IQOS to be allowed in places where smoking was banned.

Groups including medical and hospitality groups and Japan’s Fire and Disaster Management Agency have all been targeted for endorsements, “which, if secured, could give the appearance of organic, widespread adoption of IQOS”, Stop said.

The push for a presence at the Tokyo Olympics “echoes a well-known industry tactic of advertising addictive, harmful tobacco products at sporting events – associating these products with health, misleading consumers and reaching children and young people”.

Jorge Alday, director at Stop, said the findings contradicted PMI’s statements suggesting that IQOS was only aimed at adult smokers.

“PMI’s intentions with IQOS seem to extend far beyond what they have stated,” he said. “This revelation adds weight to the mounting evidence that calls into question the credibility of PMI’s claims about their intentions and their products.

“Disturbingly, this points to a broader pattern of deceptive tactics, potentially laying the groundwork for a new chapter in the tobacco epidemic,” he said.

A PMI spokesman said: “This is yet another strange story from an organization more interested in criticizing our company than helping to reduce the harm of cigarettes.

“Like any highly regulated, multinational company, PMI regularly seeks to share our views on issues that affect our consumers, our company and our communities. Not only is this type of engagement perfectly legal and appropriate, it is essential to the type of inclusive policymaking that will lead to better outcomes for the people affected by those policies.”

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