Jimmy Wales criticizes regulations that prevent truth in marketing

24 Jan 2020 · 3 min read
In a panel discussion on information and trust, the Wikipedia founder said it’s a serious problem when governments stop companies from giving people facts about better products.
Jimmy Wales PMI panel discussion for unsmoke mirrors

The panel took place in Philip Morris International’s “Unsmoke Your Mind” lounge on the fringes of Davos. It was moderated by Sameena Ali Khan of ITV and also featured Bozoma Saint John, Chief Marketing Officer of William Morris Endeavor, and Jacek Olczak, Chief Operating Officer of Philip Morris International. *

Mr. Wales began by reflecting on the fact that, when it comes to regulation on commercial communications, the truth should be an absolute defense. 

Addressing the broader question of how regulators should develop legal frameworks, he said: “We have to be rational. We have to put reason at the center of public policy.”

Speaking about how to process all the information available these days, Ms. Saint John said she was concerned about people taking too much at face value and not being willing or able to dig deeper to understand the real implications. “Shouldn’t we be able to go as deep as we want on any particular subject at our fingertips?”

Changing perceptions  

Ms. Ali Khan asked the panel what they thought was the best way to inform people’s perceptions when the underlying reality has changed. Mr Wales brought up the recent coverage of injuries and deaths attributed to vaping in the U.S., which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among others, has linked largely to THC-containing vaping products. “The concern I have around that is that if the public doesn’t understand that there are better products than continued smoking, and they’re not switching, that can be potentially a huge loss for public health.”

In answer to a question about bridging polarized divides with accurate information, Ms. Saint John said people don’t trust studies presented by a company because they assume that companies are presenting only the news favorable to them. “The word transparency is used often, but probably not executed so well. What is the full information? If there is information which is detrimental to the company that has commissioned the study, I will have a better rationale for trusting it than not.” If the information presented shows all sides of the issue, then it won’t be polarizing.

Mr Olczak concluded his comments by emphasizing how it will take time and consistent action for PMI to build trust in its transformation: “You cannot erase your history, but every day you’re writing a new history.”

*Jacek Olczak was speaking in his role as COO at the time. On May 5, 2021, Mr. Olczak succeeded André Calantzopoulos as CEO, and Mr. Calantzopoulos became Executive Chairman of the Board.