5 years ago

“It doesn’t seem to make sense for a company that sells cigarettes to help smokers stop using them”: A case study of Philip Morris’s involvement in smoking cessation

E. Anne Lown, Ruth E. Malone, Patricia A. McDaniel

by Patricia A. McDaniel, E. Anne Lown, Ruth E. Malone


In the late 1990s, American tobacco companies began offering limited cessation assistance to smokers by posting links on their company websites to government-sponsored smoking cessation resources. Philip Morris USA (PM) went further, funding youth cessation programs and creating its own online cessation program, QuitAssist. We explore why PM entered the cessation arena, and describe the variety of options considered and how PM-supported cessation programs were evaluated and promoted.


We retrieved and analyzed archival PM documents from 1998–2005. We supplemented information from the documents with scholarly articles assessing QuitAssist and archived versions of the PM and QuitAssist websites.


PM’s Youth Smoking Prevention department began funding youth cessation projects and programs soon after its creation in 1998, motivated by the same issue that drove its interest in youth smoking prevention: regulatory threats posed by public and policymaker concern about youth smoking. The department took a similar approach to youth smoking cessation as it did with prevention, rejecting curricula with “anti-industry” themes. In 2002, a “cessation exploration team” examined a variety of rationales for and approaches to company support for adult smoking cessation. Ultimately, PM chose QuitAssist, a limited and less expensive option that nonetheless provided opportunities for engagement with a variety of public health and government officials. Independent research indicates that QuitAssist is not an effective cessation tool.


While the transformation of ambitious plans into a mundane final product is a recurring theme with PM’s corporate responsibility efforts, it would be inappropriate to dismiss PM’s smoking cessation endeavors as half-hearted attempts to appear responsible. Such endeavors have the potential to inflict real harm by competing with more effective programs and by helping to maintain a tobacco-favorable policy environment. If PM truly wanted to support cessation, it could drop legal and other challenges to public policies that discourage smoking.

Publisher URL: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0183961

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