Vice’s questionable relationship with the world’s largest vendor of tobacco has entered its newest phase. The media conglomerate has inked an advertising deal worth 5 million British pounds with Philip Morris International to promote vaping in England, The Financial Times reported on Thursday. The information was confirmed by two anonymous sources and a Financial Times reporter was also approached on LinkedIn to work on a new channel created expressly for the campaign that will “cover the broad theme of ‘change,’” according to recruitment messages.
Across the world, tobacco corporations have embarked on a shift to such “reduced-risk” products, responding to falling rates of cigarette usage. PMI, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes, is the world’s largest tobacco company, and has announced that such “reduced-risk” products will comprise 40 percent of its revenues by 2025.
International media conglomerate Vice is a pioneer in native advertising, or advertisements that are created by the publication on which they run, and are often indistinguishable from editorial content. The media company, as well as Philip Morris, declined to comment when contacted by the Financial Times.
Tobacco vaping products may not be the only site of expansion for the Philip Morris brand. Philip Morris USA parent company Altria is contemplating investment opportunities with Canadian cannabis firm Cronos Group, a move that could have dramatic implications for the global marijuana industry.
The famously youth-oriented Vice Media, however, should have an interesting time navigating United Kingdom law, which says that e-cigarette marketing “must not be likely to appeal particularly to people under 18, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture.” Vice’s stated target market is adults aged 18 to 34.
This is not the first time that Vice has teamed up with Philip Morris. In 2016, the media corporation’s ad production company Edition Worldwide was discovered creating content for the tobacco giant. “It is highly irresponsible of Vice to use its expertise to help Philip Morris find new ways to reach young people and sell more of its deadly products, especially in low and middle income countries,” commented Caroline Renzulli of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids at the time.
This time around, Vice is recruiting journalists to develop a new online channel sponsored by PMI and set to launch in April that will “tackle some of the biggest issues facing the world in areas such as health, environment, energy and technology among many others,” according to a LinkedIn message received by a reporter for the Financial Times. In a piece for Medium, writer Daniel Voshart reports the channel will be called Change Incorporated.
Currently, the UK does not see youth vaping as a major concern. Last year’s House of Commons report found that negligible amounts of the country’s secondary (high school) kids where vaping — less than one percent.
But the UK has not yet been subject to the barrage of e-cigarette advertising that has swept the United States, and only last year saw the national launch of Juul vape pens, which a recent analysis found has been marketing to children since the product launched in 2015.
Last year, US Surgeon General Jerome Adams declared vaping among teens “an epidemic”. In the US, 3.6 million teenagers are estimated to be using e-cigarrettes regularly — the rate is at 20 percent among high school students. One study showed that teens are now more likely to vape substances than smoke cigarettes, cannabis, or consume drugs via any other method.
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