IQOS store Philip Morris

Philip Morris is trying to convince smokers to switch to ’less harmful’ products such as its Iqos heat-not-burn devices

Philip Morris today launched the latest phase of its campaign to wean itself and UK smokers off cigarettes: its new £2m Hold My Light stop smoking campaign.

The tobacco giant is still in the very early days of its plan to “one day” stop making regular tobacco products, and is trying to convince smokers to switch to what it contends are less harmful products such as vapes and its Iqos heat-not-burn devices.

The marketing activity includes a dedicated website, video and advertising campaign targeting two million readers of The Mirror, The Daily Record and big city regional newspapers in print and online.

On the face of it this is a worthy goal, but its efforts have not been well received by health campaigners from Cancer Research UK and Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), who have accused PMI of hypocrisy.

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Tobacco companies have long been banned from advertising cigarettes in the UK, and to its frustration, PMI cannot legally advertise Iqos either. This means a campaign that suggests heat-not-burn tobacco devices can help smokers quit traditional tobacco is as far as a company like PMI can go.

Not surprisingly the health lobby argues that PMI is just trying to get its name out into the public arena and therefore provide a boost to its famous brands, such as Marlboro, as well as Iqos. Levels of trust towards the tobacco companies from health charities remain at rock bottom, so this response is hardly surprising.

Having said that, this is still the first time a UK tobacco company has launched a campaign that encourages its customers to stop using its products altogether – so that has to be something worth supporting.

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It certainly feels a lot more genuine than the “when the fun stops, stop” messages slapped onto the end of gambling ads. And if a smoker finally quits for good, well, what does it matter if they were encouraged to do so by Philip Morris or an NHS Stoptober campaign?

However, this is not to give PMI a free pass by any means. To really convince me, and the health lobby, that its intentions are good, it needs to do more to try and get smokers to quit all over the world – in particular the developing world where it continues to advertise Marlboro to its heart’s content.

A Damascene conversion therefore needs to take place right across the Philip Morris global business and not just in markets like the UK, where attitudes towards smoking are already changing and the number of people taking up the habit is falling. That really would be a meaningful move.