Philip Morris International has cut a $6.5M sponsored content deal with Vice Media, which focuses on the 18- to 34-year-old market, to promote e-cigarette vaping.
The "PMI channel," which kicks off in April, has alarmed the healthcare community, according to a report in the Financial Times.
Martin McKee, European public health professor at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told the FT the PMI push could be the harbinger of more youth-targeted marketing campaigns to come.
The maker of Marlboro cigarettes will sponsor programming that tackles “some of the biggest issues facing the world in areas such as health, environment, energy and technology," according to a recruitment pitch.
News of the PMI campaign comes on the heels of the decision of US Food and Drug Administration Scott Gottlieb to step down. He pushed for tighter controls on vaping products to reduce its “epidemic” use among teenagers.
PMI is a separate company from Phillip Morris USA, which is owned by Atria Group.
UK officials do not share Gottlieb’s concern about youth vaping.
The No. 1 cigarette marketer contends that e-cigarette vapers pose a significantly lower risk of heart and lung disease than cigarette smoke.
It is in the midst of a corporate transformation from producing cigarettes to manufacturing reduced-risk products. Vaping products generated 14 percent of PMI revenues in 2018. PMI expects that level to rise to 38 percent by 2025,
Marian Salzman, who headed Havas PR North America since 2009, took the senior VP-communications post at PMI last April.
A non-smoker, Salzman said she was attracted to the job due to PMI’s commitment to smoke-free alternatives to cigarettes.