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Vectura’s cancer scientists will question if they want to work for Big Tobacco

·2-min read
A woman smoker (PA Media)
A woman smoker (PA Media)

BIG Tobacco’s logic goes like this. After decades of denials, we now accept smoking gives you cancer.

But people still want nicotine. So we’re developing vapes and other technologies to move folks off the cancer sticks. That way, we are actually a force for good.

Philip Morris calls this “a natural evolution into a broader healthcare and wellness company”. The rest of us find the whole argument a bit of a choker.

Because, in the meantime, the Marlboro men and their peers are killing eight million people a year with cigarettes. And they need the revenues from cigs sales to fund the R&D that goes into all that “wellness”.

Today, Philip Morris takes it one step further, offering a billion cigarette-funded pounds to buy a UK pharma company specialising in inhalers for — wait for it — smoker’s lung.

The tobacco giant behind the Iqos heated tobacco device points out that its “smoke free” products for nicotine addicts already use similar tech. Turning the tobacco plant into an aerosol is similar to doing the same with a medicine.

That’s probably true.

It’s also probably true that, with one of the richest fag companies in the world’s resources, Vectura’s scientists will be able to accelerate their research and development and help more people. The problem is, they’ll go to work knowing the very company that’s paying for it is helping create the diseases they’re trying to cure.

In January, February and March alone, Philip Morris sold 145 billion cigarettes compared with 22 billion healthier heated tobacco units. In Europe, the Iqos device made real inroads, with 6.5 billion heated tobacco units sold. But in South and South-East Asia where it sold similar volumes of fags (34 billion), heated tobacco barely figures.

Smokers in the poorest countries, it seems, are funding the R&D to save those in the richest. Vectura’s employees may feel rather queasy at that.

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