2020 Concordia Annual Summit speech by André Calantzopoulos24 Sep 2020 · 7 min read
André Calantzopoulos, CEO, Philip Morris International*
Good afternoon. It’s a pleasure to be back at the Concordia Annual Summit—albeit virtually—as we all adjust to these extraordinary times.
Reflecting on the state of our world today and the challenges ahead, four words come to mind: Uncertainty. Polarization. Hyperpartisanship. Ideology.
These words are not new, but with the COVID crisis, they have gained prominence, moving beyond traditionally contentious sectors such as ours and into the mainstream.
The lockdowns that sent us into our homes earlier this year, the continued uncertainty we all feel, and the immense socioeconomic pressure caused by the pandemic have increased tensions and reinforced the polarization of both private views and the public discourse.
And while these past months have revealed how much can be accomplished when people work together, the tendency of individuals to put their self-centered impulses ahead of community wellness remains on display.
Divisiveness—a binary choosing of sides—not only hinders progress but threatens to thwart it.
Maybe there is no silver-bullet solution—but to focus on respect for and adherence to facts, dialogue, inclusion, and science could help immensely. It is not enough, however, to simply say “follow the facts and the science” and expect progress to unfold. COVID-19 is just the latest example that proves a tragic truth: Science can be, and is being, weaponized to suit narrow agendas. Science and facts are being held hostage—and distorted—by politics, and people are suffering as a result.
As a society, we are experiencing a confluence of global existential threats. These threats require collective, multilateral discussions and cooperation—and that can only be achieved through a commitment to open dialogue.
Absent a commitment to factual scientific objectivity—free of agenda-driven politics—we risk the very real and terrifying prospect of vaccine nationalism, an inability to tackle climate change at scale, and a narrowed chance of delivering solutions that create a fairer and more equitable world.
In a global world, in a global economic and human system, whether we like it or not, there is no solution in isolation. Individual governments or companies alone cannot bring the necessary change. If we want to make the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals a reality, if we want to protect our populations from the pandemic, including implementing a viable vaccine, we must work together. And most important, we must involve the 7.8 billion people on this planet. How do we do this? We tell them what the real problems are—offering the full facts; we propose solutions they can adopt or adapt; and we incentivize them to act in accordance with this new knowledge. We won’t succeed by keeping them in the dark, by confusing them, or by misleading them.
Being at the helm of the largest multinational tobacco company as it transforms to deliver a smoke-free future, I experience firsthand how detrimental polarization is to making real progress—in this case, progress in eradicating smoking. And, as a reminder, this concerns more than 1 billion men and women who smoke around the world.
Image posed by models © Getty Images
Today, science-based, innovative products that do not involve combustion offer a better alternative for those men and women who would otherwise continue to smoke. To be clear: These products are not risk-free. And the best choice is never to start smoking or to quit tobacco and nicotine altogether. But for those adults who would otherwise continue to smoke, scientifically validated smoke-free products are a much better choice than cigarettes.
A future in which cigarettes are obsolete is within reach. In fact, with the right regulatory encouragement and support from civil society, we believe cigarette sales can end within 10 to 15 years in many countries.
Yes, that’s right: an end to cigarettes within 10 to 15 years in many countries.
Unfortunately, political agendas and ideology are slowing progress and keeping millions of people uninformed.
Rather than holding an evidence-based conversation on how best to regulate these innovative products to help adult smokers leave cigarettes behind, we are often faced with an ideologically driven resistance from some public health organizations and some NGOs. These organizations allow disinformation to appear as legitimate science. They put dogma before data, and they expend more energy on attacking a company than on helping the human beings who should be at the center of the debate.
Poorly executed scientific studies, skewed results shaped by bias, and misleading media headlines are now the norm.
What is the result? Many adults who smoke are confused about these better alternatives and so continue to use cigarettes—the most harmful way of consuming nicotine. This is inexcusable. We must ask: Who will take responsibility for denying these adults access to and accurate information about science-backed innovations? Who will be held responsible for the real-world consequences of dogmatic thinking?
(André Calantzopoulos at Concordia Annual Summit 2019. © PMI Global Studio)
The issues created by uncertainty, polarization, hyperpartisanship, and ideology are not unique to the tobacco sector. From climate change to food security, we need fact-based conversations and a collaborative, multinational, multi-stakeholder approach to deliver real change. The public has a right to decision-making and information based in science. We cannot allow politically driven, well-funded individuals to prevent the world’s citizens from learning about and accessing smart solutions. Whether we are talking about vaccines, carbon emissions, or tobacco harm reduction, we need science, not rhetoric, to inform policies and regulations.
Science unites. It has the power to open borders and minds and bring progress. It can propel innovation.
For Philip Morris International, science has changed our company and is transforming our industry.
I am proud to come before you today to say that, already, more than 11.2 million people have switched to our main smoke-free product and stopped smoking. Many more have switched to other smoke-free alternatives that are better than continued smoking. This is a profound public health achievement.
Governments across the world—in Greece, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and beyond—are beginning to validate the role better alternatives to continued smoking can play. Earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized our electronically heated tobacco system, IQOS, as a modified risk tobacco product. In doing so, the agency found that an exposure modification order is “appropriate to promote the public health.”
But a smoke-free future is not yet guaranteed. Ridding the world of cigarettes will require adherence to science, objectivity, collaboration, and a commitment to accelerate information to the people most directly concerned.
Many years ago, our industry was challenged to create a better alternative to cigarettes. PMI answered that call. We have transformed our entire company to devise and produce scientifically substantiated better products with the aim of delivering a smoke-free future. Science, data, and fact have led us here.
People who smoke are responding to our efforts. With the right regulations and related information, they could switch out of cigarettes much faster. Let’s put these people—not politics—at the center of policymaking.
Science secures progress. It secures solutions. It brings hope at a time when global challenges are so great they threaten to overwhelm. We should not allow science to be politicized and polarized.
Thank you for your time.
*André Calantzopouplos was speaking in his role as CEO at the time. On May 5, 2021, Jacek Olczak succeeded Mr. Calantzopoulos as CEO, and Mr. Calantzopoulos became Executive Chairman of the Board.