Killer company; killer profits

Today ASH is kicking off a campaign to coincide with the annual general meetings of three of the world’s largest tobacco companies: Imperial Brands, British American Tobacco, and Philip Morris International.  In line with the ‘polluter pays principle’ we’re calling on the Government to make Big Tobacco cough for a Smokefree 2030 Fund to resource necessary action to deliver the end of smoking in the next decade.

Today Imperial Brands, one of the most profitable companies in the world, will report its financial health as it continues to profit from the billions of cigarettes it sells every year. ASH is saying enough is enough. It’s time for Government to introduce legislation and force tobacco companies to pay up.[i]

Cigarettes are uniquely dangerous products, that kill when used as intended. Globally smoking kills over 8 million people a year.[ii] For every death it’s estimated that another 30 people are living with serious smoking related diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory disease.[iii]

Despite declining smoking rates in this country, 280 children start smoking every day in England[iv] and 200 people die from smoking related diseases.[v] The industry has a history of using adverts, characterising flavours, cartoons and recently social media influencers to make its products appeal to children and get them hooked on a lethal addiction.

Among the questions we’ll be asking Imperial at its AGM, is why they are introducing ‘Rizla infusion’ cards to insert into cigarettes to give them a menthol flavour, subverting the ban on sales of menthol flavoured cigarettes.[vi] Menthol reduces the harshness of tobacco smoke making it easier for children to try smoking and get addicted.[vii][viii]

As well as the human cost, tobacco harms the economy. Tobacco costs society in England £12.5 billion a year including costs from lost productivity and to health and social care services.[ix]  Meanwhile the tobacco industry is making billions. In the UK, the tobacco industry makes at least £1 billion in profits a year and this is increasing.[x]

Imperial’s 2019 annual report shows total net revenue of £31 billion for 2019.[xi] It’s strategy talks of “tobacco maximisation” focusing on driving growth in “priority markets”, while it publicly promotes the image that it’s transitioning away from tobacco into reduced risk products.

The industry must be made to pay and can afford to pay for the damage it does. ASH welcomes the Government’s commitment to achieving a smokefree England by 2030 but funding for renewed activity to motivate and support smokers to quit is needed to achieve this ambition. The Smokefree 2030 Fund would raise money from the tobacco industry to fund activity at a national, regional and local level to deliver comprehensive tobacco control and make smoking history.

Tweet your support for this campaign using the hashtag #Smokefree 2030 and get involved by endorsing the Roadmap to a Smokefree 2030.

[i] Action on Smoking and Health. ASH briefing on the Smokefree 2030 Fund January 2020.

[ii] World Health Organization. Tobacco. [Online]. Accessed February 2020.

[iii] US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fast Facts. [Online]. Accessed February 2030.

[iv] Methodology: Calculated by the Cancer Intelligence Team at Cancer Research UK, December 2019, using Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use in Young People in England 2016 and 2018 data.

[v] NHS Digital. Statistics on Smoking, England – 2019. 2020.

[vi] Convenience Store. Imperial launches Rizla flavour cards ahead of menthol ban. [Online]. Accessed February 2020.

[vii] Wise P. Breslin P. Dalton P. Sweet Taste and Menthol Increase Cough Reflex Thresholds. Pulm Pharmacol Ther. 2012 Jun; 25(3): 236–241.

[viii] The Truth Initiative. Menthol: Facts, stats and regulations. 2018. 

[ix] Action on Smoking and Health. The Local Costs of Tobacco. 2019.

[x] Branston JR, Gilmore AB. The extreme profitability of the UK tobacco market and the rationale for a new tobacco levy. University of Bath. 2015.

[xi] Imperial Brands. Annual report and accounts 2019. 2019.