PMFTC Inc., the Philippine affiliate of Philip Morris International, is pursuing a business transformation amid the pandemic to provide smokers, who would otherwise continue to smoke, better alternatives to combustible cigarettes.
PMFTC communications director Dave Gomez said since the company launched “Unsmoke Pilipinas,” the company’s transformation strategy to achieve “Smoke-Free Future” in July 2019, it continued to engage Filipino smokers even through the pandemic and raised the level of virtual conversation about the need to quit smoking.
“We have made a dramatic move to transform our business to achieve our bold new vision to design a smoke-free future. Yes you heard it right, we are a tobacco company working to achieve a world that is free from cigarettes,” Gomez said in the first-ever virtual “CreativeFest Now!” organized by the Association of Accredited Advertising Agencies of the Philippines
PMFTC, established in 2010 following the business combination between PMI and Fortune Tobacco Corporation, is an agriculture and consumer products company that is leading the change across the Philippine tobacco industry. Its traditional business supports two million Filipinos who depend on tobacco for all or part of their livelihood.
“We are in no denial. We know we belong to a controversial and highly-regulated industry. We manufacture a product—cigarettes—that have clear health risks, and yet a product that many adult consumers in the world still largely choose to enjoy. We are part of a bigger society and we want to behave responsibly in it,” said Gomez.
He said despite the global campaign against the tobacco industry in terms of higher taxes, restrictions in smoking areas and health warnings on packs, there are still 16 million smokers in the Philippines today. This is because Filipino smokers are quitting cold turkey at a rate of only 4 percent, he said.
Globally, there will still be more than one billion smokers worldwide by 2030, about the same number today, according to the World Health Organization. “So how do we make the lives of those 1 billion smokers better? The challenge and the solution to us are clear. We need to transform our business with science and innovation as our bases. Science tells us that anything you light on fire releases harmful chemicals…The problem then is burning, and our challenge is to take the smoke out of smoking. Thus we call our vision ‘Delivering a Smoke-Free Future’,” said Gomez.
He said PMI’s goal today is to provide the world’s adult smokers, who would otherwise continue to smoke, with smoke-free alternatives. “We are going smoke-free because it is the right thing to do, and our resources today allow for it,” he said.
“With the support of top-in-class scientists, engineers, technicians and state-of-the-art R&D, our bold vision is to transform our business, to replace cigarettes with better alternatives as soon as possible. And that is to take the smoke out of smoking,” he said.
Gomez said PMI’s ‘Unsmoke’ strategy is more than a marketing or PR campaign. “The Unsmoke message is our foundation. It is the core of our way forward. And it simply reads: If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you smoke, quit. If you don’t quit, change,” he said.
“Unsmoke is a sincere effort to kick-start a dialogue that is long overdue. We’ve reached a critical mass — smokers and unsmokers alike who want and need an outlet for a conversation, and whose time has come. It’s a conversation within our families, our circle of friends, our regulators and policymakers and within our society. It’s a conversation about the need to quit cigarettes, or make better choices, and support people who are making it possible. And it’s begging to be amplified,” he said.
Gomez said that in the Philippines, getting that message of transformation across when people were confined at home proved to be a unique challenge, but PMI continued its engagements.
“We set about localizing our transformation story and spreading the word to our Filipino stakeholders. We launched Unsmoke Pilipinas in July 2019. Since then, we have reached out and partnered with business organizations and industry associations. Pre-lockdown, we joined industry forums, supported events, and attended conferences in person,” he said.
Gomez said that while the onset of COVID-19 was an unprecedented obstacle, PMFTC quickly realized the need to pivot and adapt to the new reality. “We have fully shifted to virtual engagements much like this one with our partner organizations and associations. We were able to conduct a number of virtual events where we have successfully shared the Unsmoke gospel to thousands despite the physical restrictions we face,” he said.
“If there’s anything this pandemic has taught us, it’s that even as we continue to tell our transformation story, our story continues to be written in various conversations that are just beginning to be had. The world is changing and our business is changing with it. Millions of people who otherwise would continue to smoke are changing with us. We want you to be part of our story. We welcome you to join us in dialogue by visiting our website at www.unsmokeyourworld.com,” he said.