Olczak: ‘we could unsmoke every country in 10 years’

PMI’s Jacek Olczak

PMI’s Jacek Olczak

Jacek Olczak is on a mission to end smoking around the world. That may not sound especially surprising — until you realise he is COO of global tobacco firm Philip Morris International (PMI), not a doctor at the World Health Organisation.

At Cannes Lions, Olczak has been explaining how his $80bn firm is killing off its core business and replacing it with smoke-free alternatives. He told The Daily News it is “because consumers deserve better. And because there is a logic to it. Unsmoking the world is a long-term sustainable business strategy.”

So how do people react when he outlines PMI’s ambition? “At first they ask you to repeat what you said. But when you start explaining the products, the science the technology, they get it. I’ve had great discussions this week with some really talented people about how we can move our transformation faster.”

Critics of PMI point out that the company is continuing to sell cigarettes — and advocate that it should cease production now. Olczak rejects that argument, saying: “If we didn’t sell them, someone else would. My belief is that, if everything is aligned, we can unsmoke every country in 10 years. It’s fine if you are with me or on the other side. But don’t disturb me in doing something that makes sense for the billion people who are smoking today.”

Going forward, Olczak sees a role for an ecosystem of agencies in supporting the company’s vision. But right now he is not prioritising branding: “Today is about category development, product functionality, user experience. Differentiation comes later.”

Harriet Palmer