Philip Morris’ campaign to “normalize” IQOS

Philip Morris’ campaign to “normalize” IQOS

CORRECTION: Our previous video mistakenly said Philip Morris International (NYSE:) partners with Altria (NYSE:) to sell its IQOS device in about 50 countries. The partnership with Altria applies only to the U.S.

Alongside fashionable brand names like Mercedes-Benz and Chopard on the red carpet backdrop at Germany’s Bambi Awards last year: IQOS. That’s Philips Morris’ alternative cigarette that heats up but doesn’t burn ground-up tobacco.

A study by tobacco researchers at Stanford University says such promotions are part of the company’s “normalization” strategy. That strategy, it says, aims to scrub the company’s image as a maker of cigarettes that cause cancer … and market its smoking alternatives as youthful, upscale lifestyle products. The Stanford professor who led the study says Philip Morris is trying to resurrect the glory era of smoking by associating IQOS with a glamorous and stylish lifestyle.

Last year, a Reuters investigation found that Philip Morris had used young online personalities to promote IQOS. That prompted the company to admit that it had violated its own policy that prohibits it from using youth-oriented celebrities or models who are or appear to be under 25.

But the Stanford study says IQOS marketing continues to substantially stray from those corporate standards by using youth-oriented social media channels, trendy pop music festivals and celebrity influencers. In Israel, the brand was present at a Tel Aviv University student music festival last year where the minimum age for admission was 16.

The Stanford study says the company uses what it calls “coaches” and “ambassadors” to market IQOS. In Romania and Russia, that means recruiting attractive women as young as 19 to market the device. According to job listings reviewed by Reuters.

Philip Morris did not respond to questions about its business relationships with the establishments that promote the device and display its branding.

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