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Stop smoking, it’s bad for you, says big cigarette company

Big tobacco company Philip Morris has been called a hypocrite for its new stop-smoking ad. But the firm says it really does want a “smoke-free future”.

What it means: The charity Cancer Research is normally all for attempts to stop people smoking (because it’s the leading cause of cancer). Unless, it seems, those attempts are being made by Philip Morris, a company that has been selling cigarettes to people since 1847 and continues to operates in more than 180 countries.

Philip Morris claims that it's telling people to ditch cigarettes because it wants to “act responsibly”. As far as anti-smoking campaigners like Cancer Research are concerned, that’s a heck of a lot of hypocrisy from a company that makes about $78 billion each year from a product which kills 7 million people yearly. Philip Morris says if it doesn’t sell cigarettes to people, someone else will.

But the company probably is serious about winding down its cigarette business in the future. It has spent about £4 billion researching and developing cigarette alternatives: things like e-cigarettes which are still addictive but have much less cancer-causing stuff in them. Its stop-smoking advertisement encourages smokers to switch to these products instead. As less and less people around the world smoke cigarettes and governments clamp down harder on companies that sell them, switching to selling popular and less regulated e-cigarettes seems like a savvy business decision to make.

Lots of people think that’s wrong. E-cigarettes aren’t harmless, and their fun flavours means they seem particularly popular with young people. But most of us enjoy things we know aren’t good for our health - a cheeky G&T, a Big Mac, free diving - and would be pretty upset if our government tried to take them away from us. Philip Morris might not be the nicest company in the world. But if it convinces smokers to switch to less harmful alternatives, that’s probably a very good thing.

Read our explainers on economic choices and government regulation.

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