Tobacco giant Philip Morris is trying to position himself in a pharmaceutical company and health advocates don’t like it.
On September 16, Philip Morris announced the $ 1.52 billion acquisition of Vectura, a UK company that manufactures asthma inhalers. This was just the latest purchase in Philip Morris’ recent healthcare shopping spree.
Just the day before, Philip Morris announced that he would buy Fertin Pharma, which manufactures oral drug delivery systems, for $ 820 million. In August, Philip Morris bought another inhalation drug company, OtiTopic. In January, the company hired a director of life sciences, a former executive at Sanofi, the French pharmaceutical company. One of Philip Morris’ oldest acquisitions, Medicago, even set out to develop a Covid-19 vaccine last year.
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There is a cold, bold logic to this emphasis on healthcare, an industry where, if your products work as they should, you are saving lives rather than shortening them – the polar opposite of cigarettes. (No drug company has ever paid billions in fines or lawsuits for drugs that did their job.) Philip Morris calls his campaign “Beyond Nicotine” and wants to make at least $ 1 billion. dollars in annual revenue from nicotine-free products by 2025.
But that target is paltry, compared to the company’s revenue of nearly $ 76 billion in 2020. And while these new acquisitions could turn Philip Morris into a pharmaceutical company again in the very long term, healthcare professionals fear that in the short term, the company buys companies that can fuel its business with nicotine.
Philip Morris’s focus on companies specializing in inhaled drug technology, for example, appears to align with his goal of embarking on “smokeless” nicotine products. (“The best choice for any adult smoker is to quit nicotine altogether,” says Philip Morris on his website. “However, for adult smokers who don’t quit, they deserve better alternatives” – smoke-free alternatives , in other words.) Right now, many of these smoke-free options belong to Philip Morris’ IQOS brand, which heats tobacco rather than burns it. The company claimed that IQOS is less harmful than cigarettes, only to see this claim rejected by a Food and Drug Administration panel.
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Now Harold Wimmer, the president and CEO of the American Lung Association, is worried “that [Philip Morris] will use inhalation service technologies developed by Vectura to make their tobacco products more addictive. The acquisition, he said in a statement, “creates a complex web of conflicts of interest along the respiratory medicine supply chain that could undermine public confidence in essential medical products.”
But even beyond the strategic angle, health advocates question the morality of buying: that a company so responsible for worsening asthma should now be able to profit from its processing. Academics rushed to exclude Vectura from a pharmaceutical conference shortly after hearing news of the Philip Morris deal, fearing the parent company would exert the wrong kind of influence over the proceedings.
And by buying out pharmaceutical companies, Philip Morris is perversely acquiring a sort of lobbying power in the health sector – the sector that has spent billions trying to repair the damage caused by cigarettes. Sarah Woolnough, managing director of Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said in a statement: âThere is now a very real risk that Vectura’s deal with the tobacco mainstream will lead the cigarette industry to exercise. undue influence on UK health policy.