Bringing You the Daily Dispatch

Tobacco giant accused of ‘manipulating science’ to attract non-smokers
Science World News

Tobacco giant accused of ‘manipulating science’ to attract non-smokers

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

Campaigners say that leaked documents from PMI and its Japanese affiliate also reveal 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 Stopping Tobacco Organisations and Products (Stop), a tobacco industry watchdog, said it suspected PMI would apply the blueprint elsewhere.

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

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

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

A person examines small vapes on a display caseView image in fullscreen

The paper, published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research, is based on 24 leaked company documents, dated from 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 policymakers and consumers trying to make potentially life-changing decisions. It slows down and undermines public health policies, while encouraging the widespread use of harmful products.”

Braznell said the leaked documents undermined claims made by PMI to conduct “transparent science”, and called for reforms to the funding and governance 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 lobby for IQOS to be permitted in places where smoking was banned.

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

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

Jorge Alday, director at Stop, said the findings were at odds with PMI’s statements suggesting IQOS was only targeted at adult smokers.

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

“Disturbingly, it hints at a broader pattern of deceptive tactics, potentially laying the groundwork for a new chapter in the tobacco epidemic,” he said.

A PMI spokesperson said: “This is yet another specious story from an organisation more interested in criticising our company than helping reduce the harm from cigarettes.

“Like any highly regulated, multinational company, PMI regularly seeks to share our positions on issues that affect our consumers, our company, and our communities. Not only is this type of engagement entirely 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.”

Source: theguardian.com