RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Fewer people are smoking these days, and now a huge tobacco company says it's trying to give up cigarettes itself. Phillip Morris International, the maker of Marlboros, announced this in newspaper ads in the United Kingdom. The company says it will stake its future, instead, on electronic alternatives, which it claims are healthier. But as NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports, antismoking advocates were quick to question the company's motives.
YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Phillip Morris says, this year, it will focus on providing more information to British smokers about how to quit, including a new website and inserts included in cigarette packs. And it says it will invest more heavily in smoke-free products. Robin Koval is president and CEO of the Truth Initiative, a public health group devoted to smoking cessation. She scoffed when she saw copies of the full-page ads in the British newspapers.
ROBIN KOVAL: When I saw this New Year's resolution, I thought what a great publicity stunt, perhaps, a little bit more of an April Fool's joke than a New Year's resolution.
NOGUCHI: Koval says the first obvious problem with a company's resolution was that it set no goals.
KOVAL: The first thing we tell smokers when they want to give up smoking is to set a definite quit date. I didn't see that any place in this ad.
NOGUCHI: In its ads, Phillip Morris touts its IQOS product, which heats tobacco instead of burning it, calling it healthier than cigarettes. But regulators have yet to endorse that view. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is reviewing whether the company can market those claims. Koval notes the company has always had an icy relationship with regulators.
KOVAL: Phillip Morris has sued governments to thwart their anti-tobacco programs, to prevent increases in taxes, to prevent graphic warning labels. And they have certainly done nothing to stop promoting Marlboro.
NOGUCHI: She also notes, the company has less to lose in the U.K., where it is a relatively small player in the traditional cigarette market. Koval says she sees the announcement as more of a marketing move than anything else.
KOVAL: It's the new year, and smokers are thinking about quitting. Maybe it would be more beneficial for Phillip Morris if they switched to IQOS and became new users of that brand.
NOGUCHI: Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.
(SOUNDBITE OF ROB CROSS' "WE LEARN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.