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The iconic Marlboro cigarette brand will disappear from UK shelves within 10 years, the chief executive of tobacco group Philip Morris International has said.
Jacek Olczak, who has committed Philip Morris to a diversification strategy more radical than most of its global peers, said the “problem of smoking” could be solved in the UK within “10 years maximum”, though he and others have stressed that this can only happen as part of a broader effort supported by regulation.
He told the Mail on Sunday that this would “absolutely” mean stopping selling traditional cigarettes in the UK. The Marlboro brand, once marketed as a women’s cigarette but made famous by “Marlboro man” advertising campaigns featuring rugged outdoorsy types, “will disappear”.
Philip Morris International, which was separated from the New York-listed tobacco company Altria in 2008, sells Marlboro in much of the world. Its UK revenues are about £800m a year, according to Companies House filings. Its former parent still makes and sells the cigarettes in the US, where it is the clear market leader.
Under Olczak, who became chief executive earlier this year after almost 30 years with the company, Philip Morris has invested heavily in nicotine alternatives, including its flagship IQOS product. The cigarette-like device, which heats tobacco rather than burning it, has more than 20m users worldwide.
Globally, the company derives almost a quarter of its revenue from alternative products, a much higher proportion than rivals such as Altria and Imperial Tobacco.
In March, Philip Morris committed itself to earning half its revenue from non-smoking products and earlier this month the company said it would acquire Vectura, a UK-based manufacturer of inhalers for drug delivery, for more than £1bn.
Chief financial officer Emmanuel Babeau told the Financial Times last week: “We believe in, and we are going to contribute to, cigarettes being phased out.”
Anti-smoking campaigners have voiced scepticism that tobacco companies can completely abandon traditional cigarettes and assert that some of the alternatives to smoking are almost as harmful.
The commitment to phase out traditional cigarettes in the UK is also partly driven by consumer and investor behaviour, and government policy. Smoking rates in the country are already comparatively low while cigarettes are heavily taxed and, since 2016, are sold in plain packaging.
In 2019, the government committed to cutting smoking prevalence to 5 per cent by 2030, about a third of current levels.