Philip Morris International Exec: Ending Cigarette Sales Won't Stop People From Smoking

Dita Alangkara/AP/Shutterstock
March 6, 2019
Updated 2mo ago

By Chloe Aiello

Philip Morris International has an aggressive plan to help pave the way to a smoke-free world, but that doesn't mean it's going to stop selling cigarettes.

Marian Salzman, currently senior vice president of PMI, said the company hopes to convert 40 percent of smokers to non-smokers or to using less harmful devices by 2025, in a move that stems from an epiphany the company had about 20 years ago.

"I think it's something that happens when you face yourself in the mirror. This is a company that 20 years ago had to face the fact that it didn't feel good about where it was," Salzman told Cheddar on Wednesday.

Philip Morris International, which only operates outside of the U.S. since it was spun off by Altria ($MO), has invested almost $6 billion over the past decade in alternative products and smoking cessation programs. The company's featured alternative product is the IQOS, a device that heats tobacco at a lower temperature so it doesn't burn. PMI claims the lower temperature means smokers are exposed to a reduced amount of harmful chemicals levels when compared to combustible cigarette smoke.

"What we are offering with IQOS is simply something that is better than the alternative of a combustible cigarette," Salzman said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last year questioned PMI's claims about IQOS, saying "reduced exposure claims mislead consumers to believe the product is less harmful." The product is still under review to be considered a "modified risk tobacco product" by the FDA, which will soon be without the leadership of Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who announced he will step down next month.

Throughout his tenure, Gottlieb has been a staunch critic of e-cigarette companies ー like Juul, which is partially owned by Altria ー after surveys showed a spike in teen vaping. Salzman said PMI has always been "100 percent supportive of Commissioner Gottlieb."

Salzman said alternative products are only part of the company's goal to eventually make a smoke free world.

"The first milestone is 2025, and I think our goal is to get as close to a smoke-free planet as we possibly can as quickly as we can. We are well aware that if we stop selling cigarettes today, we are not going to stop people from smoking," Salzman said.

"Philip Morris is not the only purveyor of combustible tobacco products," she added.

PMI may not be the only cigarette company in the world, but it does sell the world's most valuable brand of cigarettes and the U.S.'s most popular cigarette, according to Statista and the CDC: Marlboro. Therein lies the company's biggest challenge, Salzman said, "getting combustible smokers to surrender their Marlboros."

For full interview click here.