Tommaso Di Giovanni, Vice President for International Communications, PMI
MANILA — Innovation and science are at the core of the sustainability approach of Philip Morris International (PMI) as the world’s leading tobacco company moves forward with its vision to create a smoke-free world.
“For PMI, sustainability means taking care of tobacco-farming communities; protecting the health, safety and wellbeing of our employees; investing in novel technologies; and reducing waste and carbon emissions, among others. These are key elements of sustainability and we take them very seriously. But we believe that the biggest contribution to society that we can make is to minimize the negative impact of cigarettes on health. This is the objective that sits at the top of all our sustainability priorities,” said Tommaso Di Giovanni, Vice President for International Communications, PMI.
Di Giovanni was among the four top executives who spoke during a webinar, “Sustainability: The New Norm of Innovation & Sustainability”, organized by leading newspaper South China Morning Post (SCMP) on August 24, 2020. The speakers shared their insights on how leading companies are future-proofing their organizations by constantly reinventing product portfolios and sustainable business practices during and after the Covid-19 pandemic.
Delivering a smoke-free future
“We know that combustion generates the vast majority of toxic compounds found in cigarettes. Twenty years ago, we didn’t have the technology, science and innovation needed to address that issue. Today, we do,” said Di Giovanni.
PMI has invested massively in high-quality talent and facilities to develop innovative smoke-free products that offer smokers a satisfying and better alternative to cigarettes. “Since 2008, we’ve invested more than USD 7.2 billion into the science and research of developing smoke-free products, and we employ more than 400 world-class scientists, engineers and technicians to help us,” Di Giovanni said.
Among the smoke-free products developed by PMI and already available in many markets around the world is IQOS, an electronic device that heats tobacco-filled sticks wrapped in paper, called HEETS or HeatSticks, to generate a nicotine-containing aerosol. IQOS heats specially designed tobacco units just enough to release a flavorful nicotine-containing tobacco vapor but without burning the tobacco. Because the tobacco is not burned, the levels of harmful chemicals produced by IQOS is significantly lower compared to combustible cigarette smoke.
“Around 11 million adult smokers around the world have already stopped smoking and switched to IQOS. Our vision at PMI is that smoke-free products such as IQOS will one day replace cigarettes. But we cannot achieve this vision on our own; we need other stakeholders to play their part,” Di Giovanni said.
In July 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) authorized the marketing of IQOS as modified risk tobacco products (MRTPs), describing the authorization as “appropriate for the promotion of public health.”
“The US FDA’s historic decision, made after intense scrutiny of evidence submitted by PMI, marks the first time that the agency has granted MRTP marketing orders for an innovative electronic alternative to cigarettes,” explained Di Giovanni.
PMI’s transformation from a leading cigarette company to a company committed to delivering a smoke-free future entails a huge change, stressed Di Giovanni. “We’re moving from a relatively simple product—cigarettes have been sold almost in the same shape and form for one 150 years—to an innovative product based on technology and deeply rooted in science. We’re moving from a company that is very stable and consistent to a company that needs to be agile.”
To his knowledge, Di Giovanni said, no other company has proactively and voluntarily gone through the transformation embarked upon by PMI. “Our transformation is a disruption from the inside out, and we hope that it makes a positive impact on other companies and society as a whole.”
According to Di Giovanni, the Covid-19 pandemic strengthened their belief that PMI is going in the right direction. “The pandemic highlighted the importance of health and health protection, science-based policy decisions, multi-stakeholder dialogue, and access to accurate information.”