Philip Morris goes “beyond nicotine”

US tobacco giant Philip Morris International has agreed to pay £1bn for British inhaler specialist Vectura.

US tobacco giant Philip Morris International “wants you to think it’s a healthcare company now”, says Rich Duprey on The Motley Fool. In February, the Marlboro cigarette owner launched its “beyond nicotine” initiative, which plans to “generate over half of its total net revenue from smoke-free products by 2025”. 

Now it has agreed to pay £1bn for British inhaler specialist Vectura. The group’s devices have been used to help bring “13 inhaled medicines to market”. Philip Morris says it is evolving into “a broader healthcare and wellness company”, but critics spy “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”.  

No wonder, says Helen Thomas in the Financial Times. Transitioning into cigarette alternatives is one thing, but Vectura makes most of its money from treating smoking-related diseases. It is as if BP announced a move “into flood prevention and forest-fire management”. What’s more, Vectura’s links to the tobacco industry could hamper its ability “to attract talent... and develop products”.  

The takeover could also limit how much the NHS is allowed to deal with Vectura, adds Alistair Osborne in The Times. Britain’s membership of the World Health Organisation’s Convention on Tobacco Control commits it to reducing the industry’s influence in public health policymaking. 

The “conflicts of interest” opened up by a firm that “kills people for profit” getting into the healthcare game are “myriad”. “Calls for the government to stub out takeovers are too frequent lately. But this one really does belong in the ashtray.” 

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