How working together can expedite the change we need

During my childhood and adolescence, I used to be the delivery boy for the whole family, thanks to the mini market near our home in Beirut. Dad used to repeatedly ask me to bring some soft drinks, grocery items, and cigarettes. I was a revolutionary child, and buying cigarettes did not conform to this revolutionary ethic of mine. “Get your own cigarettes, dad, and feel free to use the balcony! Didn’t you see the picture of the lungs of smokers in the science book?!” And what do you know, my father always respected my desire and fetched his own smokes—albeit reluctantly. I grew up with the idea of being health oriented, environmentally friendly, joined the Green Club at school, became an advocate of SDGs and an ambassador of UNGC Lebanon network at a later stage. Detesting smoking and loving sustainability grew within me in tandem.

In the year 2015, I had the chance to meet with Jennifer Motles, Director of Social Impact and Sustainably at Philip Morris International. We met as students at Harvard Business School (HBS). Jenny works for a company which is a major contributor to health problems and diseases caused by smoking cigarettes. I always thought of her role and company as a contradiction in terms. What has sustainability to do with tobacco?  I used to be skeptical that this industry could even merit my asking of the question, let alone be considered as a potential problem solver.

Over the years, I have had deep discussions with Jenny on how can a tobacco company (if ever) be considered sustainable, and how (if possible) can the tobacco industry help eradicate smoking. These discussions were triggered by the fact that the number of smokers according to World Health Organization (WHO) is essentially bound to remain unchanged at more than one billion for the foreseeable future. The academic in me has always been curious to know more about this toxic and rejected industry which in turn has resulted in probing deeper insights about the major players and trends in it.

I have learned that although most tobacco companies have innovated and currently sell alternative, less harmful, nicotine containing products, most of them appear to be continuing to base their business strategies on expanding their portfolios and growing cigarette sales with no plan to phase out cigarettes in the near future.

Different is the case of Philip Morris International (PMI), who decided to use technology and innovation to solve the problem of cigarette smoking, choosing to use their own new technologies to replace cigarettes altogether. When I found out they had changed their purpose (in the year 2016) to deliver a smoke-free future with the aim of accelerating the end of cigarettes for the benefit of consumers, the company, and society, my perception started to change. I realized that this awful company could actually serve a valuable purpose. Like in anything, actions speak louder than words, and that is why having the right metrics in place helps prove that this transformation is actually happening.

I am neither a consultant nor an employee of PMI, but reading these Business Transformation Metrics was enough justification to motivate me to co-author an article with Jenny on “How working together can expedite the Change We Need”. I visited Lausanne a few months ago, toured the headquarters of PMI and discovered the new culture which accompanied this strategic transformation and couldn’t hide my great impression with the change that is taking place.

Over the past three years, approximately 7.3 million adult smokers around the world have stopped smoking and switched to PMI’s heated tobacco product, which is currently available for sale in 48 markets in key cities or nationwide under the IQOS brand. PMI developed Business Transformation Metrics, on which the company reports periodically in its Sustainability Report. In 2018, smoke-free products represented more than 5 percent of PMI’s shipment volume and more than 13 percent of its net revenues, but they already represented 60 percent of its global commercial expenditure and 92 percent of its global R&D expenditure.

Yet to this day, the stigma of Big Tobacco remains. As a result, most stakeholders, especially those fiercely anti-tobacco ones, continue to maintain a blanket exclusion and refuse to engage with tobacco companies. Now, if major stakeholders refuse to engage with cigarette companies because they detest cigarettes, does it make sense to refuse to engage with the one company actively working to bring smoking to an end? In my opinion, this is a must. Not all cigarette companies are the same; as long as society doesn’t mind, some will inevitably continue to offer choice, and thus grow their cigarette business. It is our responsibility, as civil society, to give the right signals and recognize the actions we consider worthy.

It might sound counterintuitive to some. After all, I am an advisor of the Lebanese UN Global Compact Network, and PMI got delisted as a member of the UNGC in 2017. Yet it is my personal view that cigarette companies are not all the same, much like oil companies, or soft drink companies, etc. Some will read this with skepticism. I realize that, and respect their position. But it is my belief that the transformational endeavors undertaken by PMI will put pressure on other tobacco companies to be more proactive and ultimately help lead the way to accelerate change, the right kind of change, ridding the world of cigarettes the sooner.

For me the golden formula would be inclusion = engagement = collaboration which is the essence of SDG17 and indispensable to achieving the other 16 SDGs, and their 169 targets. The nature of the tobacco industry, even with its well-deserved bad reputation, does not mean that we should leave it behind in our collective efforts and make this world a better one. Everybody’s effort is needed, especially if they are genuinely aligned with what we want to achieve.


About the Global Goals Yearbook:
The Global Goals Yearbook is a publication in support of the SDGs and the advancement of corporate sustainability globally. It offers proactive and in-depth information on key sustainability issues and promotes unique and comprehensive knowledge-exchange and learning in the spirit of the SDGs and the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact. The Global Goals Yearbook helps to advance corporate transparency, promotes the sharing of good business practices, and, perhaps most significantly, gives a strong voice to the regional and global stakeholders that are at the heart of the sustainability agenda.

Global Goals Yearbook 2019
Münster 2019: macondo publishing GmbH, 172 pages
ISBN: 978-3-946284-07-9
Sales Price: 25,00 EUR
https://globalgoals-yearbook.org

This article represents the views of the authors and not necessarily the organizations where they work.

Posted in CSR

69 thoughts

  1. The article discusses the problem of the smoking industry. More precisely, the author highlights the role of tobacco companies in maintaining sustainability and terminating smoking cigarettes with time. Upon discussion with the Director of Social Impact and Sustainably at Philip Morris International (PMI), the author mentioned that the company is doing a great job in reducing smoking by providing smoking free alternatives such as heated tobacco products, and developing Business transformation Metrics. Yet, still, the work of the company is refused by many of the stakeholders who detest smoking. However, according to the author, supporting such companies that are really working to accelerate the end of smoking is a must. In fact, according to me, the author is right in his point of view, as ending cigarettes cannot be achieved directly in one click. This requires time and cooperation of the whole civil society to put the end to this situation, and the best way one could follow is the cooperation with companies such as PMI who are planning to move the world indirectly to healthier alternatives, and thus put end to smoking in the near future.

    Like

  2. This article sheds the light on the negativity of smoking and its impact on the society and personal health. The author of this article is obviously against smoking and was trying to reduce its use or replace it with something better for the health. Then the author found PMI and mentioned that it’s doing a great work looking forward to replace the cigarettes with its negative effects with a healthier heated tobacco product, under the brand name of IQOS. This product has highly replaced cigarettes in many markets, and it’s found in Lebanon, and its users are increasing day after day. Yet, the real tobacco is hardly replaced for many and they find it as a habit or they can’t afford for buying IQOS and can’t as well quit smoking.

    Like

  3. This article tackles one of the most important problems facing nations worldwide. Smoking is no longer restricted to adults, but rather it has become a daily habit for young and old people.
    Cigarette companies have claimed that their products are naturally harmful but not defective, and that they have worked to make the cigarette products harmless by lowering the nicotine and tar components of cigarettes. However, the design changes of cigarettes have indeed made smoking more desirable and acceptable to smokers, thereby encouraging smokers to keep on smoking and nonsmokers to start. I agree with you Dr. Youness, it is our responsibility to make the change and come up with the actions we consider worthy regarding this issue. There should be a law that bans smoking. Smokers should be prohibited from smoking in public and workplaces, hotels, restaurants and many others. We all have to be a part of the solution: companies, government, citizens; every one can contribute to solve the problem.

    Like

  4. Companies, usually, devote their services or products to grow profit and increase sales, but not all. For instance, Philip Morris International (PMI) stands out. PMI shifted or broadened their business strategies to empower individuals and organizations to take the lead in tackling critical global challenges related to the tobacco industry and cigarettes .

    Like

  5. A very informative and amazing post. In your post, I liked all the meaningful and creative ideas that made me want to read more and more as I move on. It highlights “ How Corporate Social Responsibility(CSR) plays an important role in the strategic plan of any company”, such as PMI artifice. As you referred to in this post, “The aim of accelerating the end of cigarettes for the benefit of consumers, the company, and society”.
    The PMI’s policies and practices demonstrated the meaning of “actions speak louder than words” when they turned their tobacco business into an environmentally friendly company using advanced innovation. To minimize the number of smokers around the world, they used technology and creativity and, at the same time, launched a new business model. They took into account that your neighbor, friend, or family member may be the one who is affected by smoking. Hence, PMI strategic planning and alignment with a coherent vision and purpose in SWOT research, tactical planning, and execution is the boost that helps the entire smoking industry accomplish such seemingly conflicting goals and game changes.

    Like

  6. Smoking is not a good healthy option and this article highlights on this topic where the author, Dr. Hasan Youness discusses his rejection on cigarettes because of its damaging impacts on health and I totally agree with him . Actually , he also talks about Philip Morris International (PMI)who chose to lessen the smoking cigarettes issue and their aim is to use technology in order to replace their smoking output with smoke-free output that is less negative and damaging on health . The author was really impressed with their work towards this new movement . Moreover, numbers don’t lie , 7.3 million adult smokers worldwide stopped smoking and turned to use PMI’s heated tobacco product . I am with the author . it is always great to offer and provide healthy alternatives choices to people and what PMI companies accomplished was considerable and may put pressure and change the mindset and production of other tobacco companies so most people all over the world maintain their health .

    Like

  7. I was pleased to read every piece of this article and your own experience… Cigarette smoking is the most dangerous form of tobacco use, so your choice to be part of this problem and share it with people here is of great importance to the environmental lover.
    The PMI’s plans and efforts have genuinely illustrated the value of “acts speak louder than words” as they have turned their cigarette business into an environmentally friendly company that uses advanced innovation; their smoke-free tobacco products and devices can regulate temperatures so that they release nicotine and flavors but do not cause burning to produce.
    Planning for a smoke-free future should be an objective on each individual’s list of goals for a better future in a healthier environment so that we can speed up the change that we need.

    Like

  8. This article is interesting. As I started reading, my curiosity increases to read more. It highlights the bad impacts of smoking and that it has become as a daily habit not only by adults but by young people, especially teens. Dr. Hassan thinks that it’s our responsibility to take a step toward changing, in his article he encourages everyone, companies, citizens, and government to tackle this problem.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s