Listening to society’s voices has led Philip Morris International and its local affiliate PMFTC, Inc. to pursue a bold new vision to deliver a smoke-free future.
“With the support of top-in-class scientists, engineers, technicians, and a 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,” said Dave Gomez,Communications Director for PMFTC Inc. during the “CreativeFest Now” virtual event organized by the Association of Accredited Advertising Agencies of the Philippines on November 19 – 21, 2020.
Gomez said they are in no denial his company belongs 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,” he stressed.
Part of being a responsible company is listening to consumers and the public in general. Doing so led PMI to get a pulse on what is expected from them, which includes warning consumers on the risks associated with their product, not selling to minors, and developing better alternatives to cigarettes.
“What they told us forms part of our new foundation for the future. Today, we have made a dramatic move to transform our business to achieve our bold new vision to design a smoke-free future. We are a tobacco company working to achieve a world that is free from cigarettes,” he said.
Gomez noted that almost every country in the world has taken action against the tobacco industry. In the Philippines, taxes on cigarettes are going up every year. Places where people can smoke are getting limited. Health warnings on packs and at retail have gone from small prints to large pictures.
Notwithstanding these measures, there are still 16 million smokers in the Philippines with a quit rate of only 4 percent. The World Health Organization estimates that there will still be more than 1 billion smokers worldwide in 2030, about the same number as today.
For PMI, the challenge and the solution are clear. Gomez said, “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. This is true for the internal combustion engine of a car, the wood in your barbecue, and the tobacco in cigarettes,” he explained, adding, “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.’”
“We are going smoke-free because it is the right thing to do, and our resources today allow for it,” Gomez said.
This vision of a smoke-free future, he said, translates into a call to action called Unsmoke your World or simply Unsmoke.
“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,” Gomez said.
He stressed that Unsmoke is not a marketing or PR campaign, but 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 policy makers, and within our society.”
Unsmoke, he summed up, is a conversation about the need to quit cigarettes, or make better choices, and support people who are making it possible.
“This is an opportunity of historic proportions. What if the world came together in the largest conversation ever about ridding the world of smoking and finding better alternatives to cigarettes if smokers don’t quit? We want people to join us to help make this happen, showing that everyone can help make a positive impact,” Gomez said.
“We are starting, and encouraging people to join us in a global conversation that inspires human stories — for the people, by the people — with an overarching call to action,” he said.
PMI launched Unsmoke in April, 2019, and have already reached 90 countries. Since then, it has become a central message for the company to persuade societies across the globe that smokers – and those who love them – need accurate information about better alternatives to cigarettes, access to these products, and the right regulation to support their changing to them.
Unsmoke has been used in events, in paid advertising campaigns, as an internal rallying cry, and as an external call, generating hundreds of millions of earned impressions and spurring nearly 2.5 million Unsmoke digital actions – page and video views, clicks, shares, hashtag uses, and retweets – by people engaging with the Unsmoke message.
“In the Philippines, getting that message of transformation across – in a time when we were all confined at home – proved to be a unique challenge,” said Gomez.
“We believe in the power of human connection and one-to-one communication. Especially considering our culture of pakikisama and samahan, we’re all aware how face-to-face interaction and physical proximity can make a world of difference. With that belief in mind, we set about localizing our transformation story and spreading the word to our Filipino stakeholders,” he said.
PMFTC launched Unsmoke Pilipinas in July, 2019. Since then, PMFTC has reached out and partnered with business organizations and industry associations, joined industry forums, supported events, and attended conferences in person pre-pandemic.
The onset of COVID-19 posed an unprecedented obstacle and spurred the need to pivot and adapt to the new reality.
“True to our company’s transformation mindset, we saw it as a chance to try something new, an opportunity to re-imagine our approach, broaden our engagement capabilities, and continue telling our story,” Gomez said.
PMFTC shifted the campaign to virtual engagements and conducted a number of virtual events where it successfully shared the Unsmoke message to thousands despite the physical restrictions.
“What we’ve found through the hundreds of conversations we’ve had over the past year is this: there are people out there with Unsmoke stories. And whether or not they realize it, they are part of a conversation that has been going on for many years but is only now gaining traction. By raising the level of conversation about Unsmoke, the Philippines is becoming part of that global community,” Gomez said.
“The world is changing and our business is changing with it. Millions of people who otherwise would continue to smoke are changing with us,” Gomez noted.