Inside the strategy doc Philip Morris never meant you to see

Leaked document reveals a corporate vision that stands in contrast to company’s public pronouncements

Tucked within an apparently unremarkable company document are the plans Philip Morris never meant you to see. Leaked to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism as part of a major new investigation, the Business Objectives of the Japanese arm of one of the world’s biggest tobacco companies reveal a sweeping plan of influence campaigns and political lobbying.

The document, from 2019, offers a rare glimpse into the inner workings of a tobacco giant. And it shows a corporate strategy starkly at odds with the company’s public pronouncements.

Time and time again Philip Morris has claimed it wants to rid the world of cigarettes, that it is doing what it can to phase them out and “deliver a smoke-free future” for the good of public health. When the company launched its heated tobacco product Iqos in 2016, the chief executive spoke of working with governments on “a phase-out period for cigarettes”.

But this document shows that Philip Morris was in fact looking to increase its share of the Japanese cigarette market in 2019.

(Annotations by TBIJ)

The striking details don’t stop there. Philip Morris wanted to secure lower tax rates for Iqos than cigarettes, as well as an exemption from indoor smoking restrictions. And the company planned to achieve these goals with an extensive lobbying campaign targeting Japanese politicians and the healthcare industry.

Officials in the ministries of finance and health were to be targeted with the message that Iqos should be given preferential tax treatment, while local politicians would be lobbied to exempt the product from indoor smoking restrictions.

(Annotations by TBIJ)

International guidelines were put in place in 2003 to prevent politicians from being influenced by the tobacco industry. The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) is a global treaty that legally binds member states – including Japan – to protect public health policy from industry interests. But Japan’s regulation around corporate lobbying is virtually nonexistent, leaving tobacco companies able to lobby politicians without the risk of any sanction.

Philip Morris Japan planned to “[map] 100 parliamentarians for THR [tobacco harm reduction] engagement” as well as trying to “secure domestic political support and make progress towards inclusion of harm reduction at regional / international parliamentary events”.

The document also outlined how PMI wanted to “leverage” a conference attended by politicians from around the world to push Philip Morris’s harm reduction message. Again this raises questions around the effectiveness of FCTC guidelines.

(Annotations by TBIJ)

The next year, Philip Morris Japan sponsored a seminar on “Roles of Science and Policy in the Pandemic Society”.

And Philip Morris’ lobbying plans even extended to the Tokyo Olympics, aiming for a “PMJ presence at the Olympic venue”. To do this, it planned to “appoint leader”; “formulate project team” and “develop project plan”.

More leftfield still was the company’s plan to target Japanese dentists. Again, the message to be pushed was one of public health. The document outlines a plan to “pilot with 15-20 dentists” in order to expand “third-party scientific endorsement for tobacco harm reduction”.

Philip Morris claims that Iqos’s popularity is a victory for harm reduction in public health. “The answer begins with science,” it says. But the product’s long-term health effects are unknown and multiple independent studies have concluded that any benefits are unproven.

Healthier or not, Iqos now makes a fortune for Philip Morris – it is the linchpin of the company’s $13bn-a-year portfolio of smoke-free products. It now makes more money than Marlboro. In Japan, Philip Morris’s heated tobacco products outsold cigarettes by more than double in 2023.

Iqos is at the forefront of Japan’s tobacco market. This document shows that Philip Morris got it there by using all available avenues to influence those in power.

Japan has been the test case. Iqos’s success in the country has been the first in Philip Morris’ efforts to penetrate new markets across the globe.

Reporter: Fin Johnston
Illustrations: Eleanor Shakespeare
Global health editor: Fiona Walker
Deputy editor: Chrissie Giles
Editor: Franz Wild
Impact producer: Paul Eccles
Production editor: Alex Hess
Fact checker: Somesh Jha

Our reporting on tobacco is part of our Global Health project, which has a number of funders including the The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the University of Bath. None of our funders have any influence over the Bureau’s editorial decisions or output.