Health Groups on Philip Morris Move: 'Reprehensible'

Big Tobacco giant has scooped up UK pharma company Vectura, which makes asthma inhalers
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 17, 2021 2:06 PM CDT
Takeover of Asthma Inhaler Company Is a Surprising One
This photo shows a Philip Morris office in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Jan. 27, 2020.   (Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP)

If it seems odd to you that a Big Tobacco giant would be getting into the asthma inhaler business, you're not the only one. NPR notes that "health groups are suspicious" after it was announced Thursday that Philip Morris International has become the majority stakeholder of Vectura, a UK pharmaceuticals firm that manufactures such inhalers. CNN Business reports that PMI—maker of Marlboro, Parliament, and VIrginia Slims cigarettes—now owns almost 75% of Vectura's shares, an acquisition that will help PMI move closer toward its goal of earning more than half of its net revenue from products such as e-cigarettes and respiratory drugs—i.e., products that don't generate the smoke that can cause asthma flare-ups.

Jacek Olczak, PMI's CEO, calls the $1.4 billion takeover an "important milestone," noting the company "is very excited about the critical role Vectura will play in our Beyond Nicotine strategy." Not everyone is as excited as Olczak—notably, public health experts and other major health groups. The move "is the latest reprehensible choice from a company that has profited from addicting users to its deadly products," the American Lung Association and American Thoracic Society say in a joint statement. "The prospect of someone potentially profiting from selling one product that harms the lungs and another that treats the lung disease it causes is beyond worrying," the head of the ALA's European counterpart concurs, per CNN.

Another ethics issue that could bubble up, per a letter co-signed by more than two dozen health advocacy groups: Vectura could be left out of important health research and policy rulings, as many universities, agencies, and publications have rules against working with tobacco companies, NPR notes; those repercussions seem to already be happening. PMI, meanwhile, says Vectura will continue to operate independently from PMI proper, though Olczak suggests the company will collaborate with Vectura's scientists. (More Philip Morris stories.)

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