Anti-smoking campaign Quit Big Tobacco is calling out the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity for hosting a panel for cigarette maker Philip Morris International on its Social Good track.
The anti-tobacco campaign, which was started by nonprofit Vital Strategies, is calling out what it sees as hypocrisy for including a cigarette maker in the Good track alongside nonprofits such as Greenpeace, Sesame Street and U.N. Women.
To draw attention to the Monday morning panel, Quit Big Tobacco, which has asked agencies to promise to shun tobacco clients, pulled together a last-minute social media campaign to ask #WhyCannes.
“We and those that have taken this pledge understand the tobacco industry is trying to use Cannes to rebuild its terrible reputation,” said Steve Hamill, VP at Vital Strategies and a Quit Big Tobacco representative. “This is part of a global push to rebrand themselves as an industry with a conscience. They think social good is like a costume they can zip on and zip off. We think it’s a shame that the organizers at Cannes fell for it.”
The anti-tobacco group has urged the advertising industry to sign a pledge promising not to work with or take money from tobacco companies. The Quit Big Tobacco campaign began last May and has since secured pledges from more than 250 companies.
Philip Morris defended its inclusion on the Social Good track on Twitter and in a blog post. The company has said its business model is changing for a “smoke-free future” and moving away from selling cigarettes, and that it wants to make sure consumers have accurate information about smoking and smoking alternatives. Philip Morris International also said initiatives such as Quit Big Tobacco’s are “creating a fog of misinformation and confusion.”
“We want to inspire the best creative brains on the most robust platforms to join us on this mission,” PMI said on the blog post. “We can’t do this alone.”
The panel was focused on PMI’s smoke-free future business model. It featured rapper Wyclef Jean and marketing executive Bonin Bough alongside Moira Gilchrist, VP of scientific and public communications at Philip Morris.
Last month, Philip Morris suspended influencer marketing campaigns globally for its cigarette alternative iQOS after a Reuters investigation found one endorser is under the minimum age required to promote the products. Critics said the influencer campaign contradicts the company’s assurances that it does not market products to young people or nonsmokers.
While PMI has launched efforts to move away from traditional cigarettes, like the Year of Unsmoke initiative launched in April, organizations such as Quit Big Tobacco don’t believe Philip Morris should be included in this track while it produces billions of cigarettes annually.
“The action is not what’s up on stage, but how does the advertising agency world receive this?” Hamill said. “Do they understand that it’s a ploy to rebrand the world’s leading killer industry as a do-good organization? We understand these things take time and hope one day Cannes will join Quit Big Tobacco as an organization themselves. We don’t think creative talent should be used for an industry that kills.”