Hand pulling out a cigarette

This article was updated on 20 July to reflect the open letter sent to Kwasi Kwarteng and Sajid Javid

Philip Morris International (PMI), the maker of Marlboro cigarettes, is buying a British respiratory drugs company for £1.04bn.

Vectura has worked on treatments for lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and is the pharmaceutical company responsible for developing a pioneering inhaled treatment for COVID-19.

It’s ironic that a tobacco company wants to invest in the lung health industry when their products are the biggest preventable cause of cancer, including lung cancer. If PMI really wanted to help, they could stop aggressively promoting and selling their products altogether.

Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive

Mitchell has written a joint letter to Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, and Sajid Javid, the health and social care secretary, calling on the Government to block the deal.

In the letter, the charities – which include Asthma UK and British Lung Foundation and Action on Smoking and Health – warn that that there is a “real prospect” that the tobacco giant could use the takeover to “legitimise tobacco industry participation in health debates within the UK”.

More funding needed for tobacco control

Smoking is the biggest preventable cause of cancer in the UK and worldwide, causing at least 15 different types of cancer.

“More funding is desperately needed for tobacco control, including services to help people quit smoking, if we are to reach smokefree targets across the UK,” says Mitchell.

In 2019, the UK Government set out its ambitious plan for England to be smokefree by 2030, a target which England is already off track to meet.

Experts see the upcoming Tobacco Control Plan for England as a key opportunity for the UK Government to tackle smoking rates and health inequalities across the country. But they warn that to maximise this opportunity, the UK Government must deliver an ambitious and comprehensive plan of action backed up by sufficient funding.

“As the maker of such a harmful product, the industry should be made to pay through a Smokefree 2030 Fund, without being given any influence in how the funds are spent,” added Mitchell. “The £1 billion PMI plan on spending to buy Vectura is more than triple what public health charities are asking the tobacco industry to pay up. The Smokefree 2030 Fund would prevent people from starting to smoke and support those who do, to stop.”