Exposed: Philip Morris International (PMI) claims Japan as “success story” for tobacco harm reduction but orchestrated acceptance of heated tobacco products in Japan

27 June 2024, Bangkok: Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products (STOP)’s latest exposé, Today Japan, Tomorrow the World: Philip Morris Japan’s Leaked Marketing Blueprint for IQOS, unveils how a 2019 business plan of Philip Morris Japan (PMJ) explicitly aimed to influence policymakers and health professionals to recognize IQOS, PMI’s heated tobacco product (HTP), as a less harmful alternative to conventional cigarettes and secure favorable regulatory policies to help grow its sales. 

According to other leaked documents, PMJ paid JPY 3 million (~USD 27,500) per month to a life sciences consultancy to build relationships with key opinion leaders to promote PMI’s products and messages. This included hosting academic events and promoting PMI’s “research” among politicians and the medical, dental, public health, and scientific communities to expand acceptance of its products. 

PMI has since employed this strategy in key countries in Southeast Asia and globally, coupled with PMI’s aggressive “Unsmoke your world” marketing campaign to normalize HTPs and other electronic smoking devices in the guise of “tobacco harm reduction” while sustaining nicotine addiction. 

In March 2019, PMI introduced IQOS in Malaysia (without pictorial warnings as required by law for all tobacco products), followed in April by its “Year of Unsmoke” campaign through a photo exhibit, skirting the law banning direct and indirect tobacco advertising. PMI also sponsored several webinars and social media posts but did not disclose it was the sponsor. As in Japan, PMI targeted opinion leaders and policy makers to accept unvalidated research favoring HTPs. Contrary to independent research, PMI continues to tout in Malaysian media that HTPs have been reducing smoking rates in Japan over the past years.

In 2020, PMI launched a similar campaign in the Philippines. Through its local affiliate PMFTC Inc, PMI simultaneously opened four IQOS stores and launched the Unsmoke campaign. While PMI’s public narrative is to provide adult smokers with less harmful alternatives, the strategic location and visually attractive design of its IQOS stores in shopping malls draw in countless young people, most of whom do not smoke. PMFTC also lobbied successfully for lower tax rates for HTPs compared to cigarette taxes.

Since 2020, the PMI-funded Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (recently renamed Global Action to End Smoking) has funded four projects in the Philippines and two in Malaysia to support the introduction of IQOS.

“In line with its 2019 Japan business plan, Philip Morris’s promotional campaigns in Malaysia and the Philippines coincided with the time both countries were considering legislation on electronic smoking devices. Today, HTPs are sold in both countries, and this has not reduced smoking and nicotine addiction in any way,” said Dr Ulysses Dorotheo, Executive Director of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA).

In Indonesia where tobacco control is lax, PMI’s local affiliate, PT HM Sampoerna, launched IQOS in 2019 and signed an MOU with the Ministry of Research, Technology & Higher Education to disburse grants to several state polytechnics and universities to conduct research on HTPs in collaboration with the tobacco company. Compared to cigarettes in Indonesia, IQOS is sold without pictorial warnings and also enjoys a lower excise tax.

In 2021,  the Indonesian government gave approval to Sampoerna to build an IQOS factory. Meanwhile, Sampoerna continues to sell its cigarettes in kiddie packs and single sticks to keep cigarettes cheap and accessible to children and the poor. 

“HTPs have been shown to cause severe lung disease, because HTP smokers inhale thousands of chemicals, including various toxicants and carcinogens. Furthermore, HTPs do not help cigarette smokers to quit.  PMI is not interested in helping smokers quit; it wants to keep them addicted. That’s PMI’s business model. Governments should follow the lead of Singapore, which has banned HTPs and reduced its smoking prevalence to less than 10 percent without electronic smoking devices,” said Dr Dorotheo. 

Note to media:

E-cigarettes containing nicotine are prohibited in Japan, so they are not a competitor of HTPs for market share in Japan.

Contact Information: 
Ms Val Bugnot, Media and Communications Manager, SEATCA 
Email: val@seatca.org
Mobile: +63 917 312 4600

About SEATCA

SEATCA is a multi-sectoral non-governmental alliance promoting health and saving lives by assisting ASEAN countries to accelerate and effectively implement the tobacco control measures contained in the WHO FCTC. Acknowledged by governments, academic institutions, and civil society for its advancement of tobacco control in Southeast Asia, the WHO bestowed on SEATCA the World No Tobacco Day Award in 2004 and the WHO Director-General’s Special Recognition Award in 2014. SEATCA is an accredited ASEAN entity and an official Observer to the WHO FCTC Conference of Parties.