Jacek Olczak, Chief Executive Officer of Philip Morris International Inc. (PMI) (NYSE: PM), today delivered remarks at the 2021 Concordia Annual Summit. Olczak discussed the need to draw on the lessons learned from the global response to COVID-19 and create transparent frameworks and partnerships that harness innovation to build a better world. He explained the importance of focusing on peer-reviewed science to tackle major global issues—including environmental pressure, social inequality, health pandemic, and smoking. Olczak described how the exclusionary practices of many anti-tobacco organizations and NGOs are making it harder for PMI to deliver tobacco harm reduction solutions by introducing scientifically substantiated alternatives as the company moves away from making and selling cigarettes.
The Concordia Annual Summit, which coincides with the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) meeting, convenes the world’s most prominent business, government, and nonprofit leaders to foster dialogue and enable effective partnerships for positive social impact.
Excerpts of Jacek Olczak’s speech follow.
“We have come together today to talk about resilience and recovery. To share our insights and ideas for how to build a world that is better for all.
“Two things are certain: We cannot build the future we desire by relying on the same blueprints we used to construct our recent past. And returning to a version of yesterday’s ‘normal’ is unthinkable. It would be a dereliction of duty and an unforgivable waste of the opportunity before us to evolve and grow as a society.
“With COVID-19, we have been handed a terrible burden … and a gift. An opportunity to create our world anew, drawing on the lessons we have learned during 18 months of lockdowns and fear and uncertainty.
“A lesson that has been especially resonant for me is just how irrational it is to attempt to address a massive global challenge—such as the current pandemic—from behind closed doors and without input from all concerned parties. Moreover, our recent experiences have shown me how counterproductive it is to prioritize certain people and perspectives over all others to the point of obscuring truths and blocking innovative and more immediate solutions.
“We have an opportunity to build a better world, but we cannot do that until we open the doors to new partnerships and new frameworks. To initiate change, we need to open our minds and be willing to welcome all pertinent parties and perspectives to the table. To recover, rebuild, and repair our world, we must act in unison as a global community rather than be led by provincial thinking.
“As the CEO of Philip Morris International, I have witnessed how the ‘old normal’ ways of working are heaving roadblocks along the path to progress.
“The situation we face as a company is relatively simple: Globally, more than 1 billion people continue to smoke cigarettes. We can all agree that this is a bad thing—for those individuals and for the public health. Regulatory measures to reduce that number have had limited effect, but not nearly enough to solve the problem. The answers for the future lie squarely in a fierce commitment to science and technological innovation.
“Over the past decade, we have had an enormous scientific and technological breakthrough: Companies such as mine have developed smoke-free products that eliminate combustion—products such as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco systems. While not risk-free, these products have been scientifically substantiated to be a much better alternative to continued smoking.
“That’s great news, isn’t it? Adults who continue to smoke now have better alternatives to cigarettes. Who could oppose them switching to these better options?
“You would be surprised.
“Rather than celebrate what by any objective measure is a positive public health breakthrough, some special interest groups are prioritizing ideology, politics, and a desire for retribution over progress. Fixated on the fantasy of an entirely tobacco-free world, they have lost sight of the opportunity that exists today, refusing to accept the science behind these alternatives and rejecting harm reduction as a solution for better.
“We need only look at Japan to see a market in which the introduction of heated tobacco products directly correlates to an accelerated decline in cigarette use.
“Equally troubling, authorities worldwide are being influenced by lavishly funded special interest groups and NGOs afraid to lose the funding they gain from continuing to fight a last-century battle. Constructs put in place through the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control are willfully being misinterpreted. For example, Article 5.3 of the Convention, intended to limit industry influence—something we respect and support—is wielded to censor and ostracize critics, silence reasoned voices, and stymie debate.
“The closed doors, secrecy, and intrigue that marked criticism of the tobacco industry 30 years ago are now, ironically, standard practice for many anti-tobacco organizations and NGOs. Unfortunately, their tactics are making it harder for my company to achieve our goal of no longer making or selling cigarettes. As we expand our business for the long term outside of tobacco and nicotine and invest in pharma, we are faced with the same illogical exclusion.
“The misplaced fear and resistance to change must be addressed.
“We need to remove politics and ideological principles that are impeding progress—and not only with regard to tobacco harm reduction. The harms of exclusionary policies and counterproductive measures apply with similar force to climate change, pandemic mitigation, institutionalized inequity, and other pressing challenges.
“Intentionally or not, the ‘old guard’ has created a world that is failing the majority. They have championed policies that prioritize the status quo rather than embracing intelligent change.
“It is time for new voices. It is time for more inclusive and pragmatic approaches.
“Science—when vetted through peer review—is science. Facts are facts. The notion that a scientific finding must be flawed because it comes from a particular company or industry is absurd—especially when it has been confirmed by respected governments, scientists, and other third parties. We need to remove the stigma that scientific innovation funded by a tobacco company cannot possibly be reliable or in the public interest. Equally essential, we need to stop excluding men and women who smoke from the conversation. These are the people who have the most to gain from reduced-risk alternatives. They must be allowed a voice.
“We can continue to allow these groups to prescribe who gets to be engaged in solving problems—even when they have precious little to show for their decades of work. Or we can instead work together—as smartly and as quickly as possible—to tackle the very real issues that threaten us all.
“It is human nature to stick with what we know. Thanks to the great pause of COVID-19, we have had time to reflect on where that tendency has gotten us. What we need now is not more of the same but fresh thinking. We need to break out of our echo chambers and monolithic committees and conferences so that innovative thinking and science can get through. Healthy debate requires differences and dissent. I would urge those of you gathered here today to ask how we can create a better tomorrow. Will it be by doubling down on dogma and division, or will it be by embracing collaboration, diversity, and inclusivity? The challenges before us are mighty. The consequences of our failing to meet them are great.
“I am not here to ratchet up tensions. Quite the opposite. I am here to ask you to help put a stop to outdated, exclusionary approaches that are preventing us from moving forward as a society. And I am asking you to put the public health over ideology and ancient grudges. If we have learned one thing this past year and a half, it is that science, innovation, and inclusion must be permitted to prevail.
“I stand before you four months into my role as CEO of PMI, a company undergoing a profound transformation.
We are passionate in our commitment to unsmoke the world and create a better future—a future free of cigarettes. Now, we need you—and all those in positions of influence—to join us in unsmoking minds so we can rebuild a better future for all, faster.”
A recording of the speech will be available to view at www.pmi.com/unsmokethefuture
Philip Morris International: Delivering a Smoke-Free Future
Philip Morris International (PMI) is leading a transformation in the tobacco industry to create a smoke-free future and ultimately replace cigarettes with smoke-free products to the benefit of adults who would otherwise continue to smoke, society, the company, its shareholders and its other stakeholders. PMI is a leading international tobacco company engaged in the manufacture and sale of cigarettes, as well as smoke-free products, associated electronic devices and accessories, and other nicotine-containing products in markets outside the U.S. In addition, PMI ships versions of its IQOS Platform 1 device and consumables to Altria Group, Inc. for sale under license in the U.S., where these products have received marketing authorizations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the premarket tobacco product application (PMTA) pathway; the FDA has also authorized the marketing of a version of IQOS and its consumables as a Modified Risk Tobacco Product (MRTP), finding that an exposure modification order for these products is appropriate to promote the public health. PMI is building a future on a new category of smoke-free products that, while not risk-free, are a much better choice than continuing to smoke. Through multidisciplinary capabilities in product development, state-of-the-art facilities and scientific substantiation, PMI aims to ensure that its smoke-free products meet adult consumer preferences and rigorous regulatory requirements. PMI’s smoke-free product portfolio includes heat-not-burn and nicotine-containing vapor products. As of June 30, 2021, PMI’s smoke-free products are available for sale in 67 markets in key cities or nationwide, and PMI estimates that approximately 14.7 million adults around the world have already switched to IQOS and stopped smoking. For more information, please visit www.pmi.com and www.pmiscience.com.