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    World’s biggest cigarette company offered tobacco products to doctors and nurses to mark NHS 70th birthday

    The world’s biggest cigarette company has come under fire for offering “smoke-free” tobacco products to NHS staff to mark the 70th birthday of the health service.
    Philip Morris International, which makes Marlboro and a host of other big-selling brands, sent a letter to all NHS trusts and the health secretary, Matt Hancock, offering to help doctors, nurses and other health workers give up smoking by using its cigarette alternatives.
     
    The devices heat up tobacco rather than burning it but still contain all of the same poisons and addictive chemicals as normal cigarettes.
    Under World Health Organisation guidelines, tobacco companies are not allowed to be involved in any public health initiatives, due to the millions of people that their products have killed.
     
    But in the letter Mark MacGregor, Philip Morris’s director of corporate affairs in the UK and Ireland, wrote: “To support the 70th anniversary of the NHS, we are keen to work with you to help the 73,000 NHS employees who currently smoke, to quit cigarettes. 
    “This would be a collaborative campaign: you would provide cessation advice for quitting nicotine altogether, and for smokers who do not quit we can help them switch to smoke-free alternatives.”
    Public health minister Steve Brine said in a debate in the House of Commons on Thursday that Philip Morris’s actions were “totally inappropriate and totally against the [WHO] protocol”, but campaigners said the ministers’ comments did not go far enough.
    Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the health charity Action on Smoking and Health, described Philip Morris’s move as a “disgraceful PR stunt”.
    Ms Arnott told The Independent: “I am delighted that the public health minister has confirmed that for the NHS to partner with the tobacco industry is completely unacceptable. But it is not just the NHS. PMI has also contacted local authorities making similar offers. 
    “I hope the minister will put on the record in parliament today his strong support for the WHO guidelines which state that ‘the tobacco industry should not be a partner in any initiative linked to setting or implementing public health policies, given that its interests are in direct conflict with the goals of public health’.”
    Philip Morris, which for decades denied that smoking was linked to cancer and other health problems despite possessing evidence which demonstrated that it was, has spent billions of dollars developing alternative tobacco products as smokers ditch traditional cigarettes.
     
    The company’s smokeless tobacco products are different to e-cigarettes, or “vapes”, which contain nicotine in a liquid instead of tobacco. 
    Some studies have shown that vaping is less harmful than smoking, but research into the health effects of alternative tobacco products – which heat the plant up but not to a high enough temperature to produce smoke – has so far been funded by the tobacco industry. 
    The tobacco itself still contains the same carcinogenic poisons and addictive chemicals, but cigarette companies claim that the way in which they are delivered makes them less damaging to health.
     
    In January, US health advisors said Philip Morris should not be allowed to make that claim.
    There are 73,000 smokers among NHS staff in England, whose habits cost the health service more than £200m a year in cigarette breaks, sick days and treatment, according to research published last month by the Royal College of Physicians. 
    Smokers also had 56 per cent more sick days, amounting to £101m in NHS costs, and cost £6m in treating staff with preventable diseases caused by tobacco. In total, the RCP panel said, this amounts to £2,800 per staff smoker.
    A spokesperson for Philip Morris said that its NHS initiative was “completely in line” with WHO guidelines.
     
    The spokesperson added: “The NHS is a remarkable and respected British institution but on current trends it will be over 100 years old before smoking is at an end in the UK. 
    “We are keen to work with any organisation, including the NHS, to help their staff to stop smoking. Quitting smoking is always the best option for NHS workers. 
    “We believe we can play a vital role in providing advice on how to switch to better alternatives, such as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco.”

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