A cigarette company has stunned the public by taking out full-page ads in the United Kingdom declaring that its New Year's resolution was to "give up cigarettes".
Philip Morris is a giant tobacco company that produces and markets cigarettes worldwide.
Its brands include Marlboro, Parliament and Alpine cigarettes, among others, reports News.com.au.
In the ads, published in newspapers including The Sun, Philip Morris assured readers its "ambition is to stop selling cigarettes in the UK".
"It won't be easy. But we are determined to turn our vision into a reality," the ad says.
"There are 7.5 million adults in the UK who smoke. The best action they can take is to quit smoking. Many will succeed.
"But many will continue to smoke. That's why we want to replace cigarettes with products ... which are a better choice for the millions of men and women in the UK who would otherwise not stop smoking."
It goes on to state: "No cigarette company has done anything like this before. You might wonder if we really mean it."
Yet despite the global attention and headlines, this is not a new ambition for the company. Nor is it a new story. The company also wants to "give up" cigarettes in Australia and 30 other countries.
In October last year, the company committed to a "smoke free" Australia in a push to eventually stop producing cigarettes. Its aim was to stop selling cigarettes by 2020. The World Health Organisation estimates that there will be more than a billion smokers by 2025.
Philip Morris's ambition is to help smokers quit the traditional method of smoking and if they can't quit altogether, replace cigarettes with healthier alternatives like heated tobacco products and e-cigarettes. In the UK, the company also sells several alternatives to cigarettes including a heated tobacco product Iqos. It also the Nicocig, Vivid and Mesh e-cigarette brands.
The company claims alternatives are 95 per cent less harmful than cigarettes.
"I hope by 2020 we stop selling conventional cigarettes if not completely, or handing them over to someone else to worry about," Australian Paul Riley, Philip Morris's Japan president, told news.com.au last month.
"If we can go hard enough we'll be close by the end of 2020 not to have to sell the conventional product (cigarettes)."
However anti-smoking campaigners have dismissed the advertisements as a "PR stunt" that shows the company has "money to burn".
"Rather than making donations, it should be forced to pay the government more of its enormous profits," Deborah Arnott, the chief executive of UK charity Action on Smoking, said.
The US Food and Drug Administration is also weighing up whether to approve new Philip Morris products, following reports from staff about irregularities in clinical trials carried out by the company.
The Australian Cancer Council said the relatively new status of e-cigarettes meant "there is not enough data available to determine the long-term health effects".
"Products delivering chemicals directly to the lung are only approved after extensive evaluation on safety and efficacy. E-cigarettes currently on the market in Australia have not passed through this process and have not been proven safe to use," it states.
It also claims evidence e-cigarettes can help people quit is "inconclusive" with concerns it could lead to the use of the product among teenagers.
Philip Morris has already started a number of programs overseas including initiatives to convince consumers to switch from cigarettes to heated tobacco products.
In Japanese packs last year, inserts were included within the package in an "aggressive" form of marketing for the company.
"We recognise that never starting to smoke — or quitting altogether — are always the best option," the company admitted.
Australian medicines regulator the Therapeutic Goods Administration also does not support the use of electronic cigarettes. E-cigarettes containing nicotine are not regulated as therapeutic goods and cannot be legally imported for personal use.
However the products are becoming increasingly popular among young adults in Australia, particularly in NSW, where Cancer Institute of NSW research of more than 3000 tobacco smokers showed 18- to 29-year-olds were picking up the habit.
While e-cigarettes can be legally bought in Australia if you are over 18, nicotine is classified as a dangerous poison, so the sale of nicotine vapour is strictly prohibited — despite the legal sale of cigarettes.
The ban has led to reports smokers that are forced to buy quantities of e-cigarettes and their liquid on the black market. In some cases, this has proved a dangerous gamble with exploding e-cigarettes, like this one in a man's mouth, and this poor fella who lost an eye.
The World Health Organisation has refused to partner with the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, funded by Philip Morris, claiming "the tobacco industry and its front groups have misled the public about the risks associated with other tobacco products".
"Such misleading conduct continues today with companies, including PMI, marketing tobacco products in ways that misleadingly suggest that some tobacco products are less harmful than others," WHO said in a statement.
Philip Morris's manager for Japan, Mr Riley claims the company is simply "asking the question" about whether harm reduction strategies are a better alternative.
"The reality is you can't get away from the fact the WHO itself says that even if they continue with the same methods they have today, like plain packaging, higher taxes, the amount of people smoking in 20 years time is not going to be too much different from today," he told news.com.au.
"You have to ask yourself if you've got a product, that for those that aren't going to give up, it's worth switching to something that's better for them."
An Australian Government Department of Health spokesperson told news.com.au "heated tobacco products may not be sold commercially in Australia" as schedule 7 of the Poisons Standard listed nicotine as a "dangerous poison". But this was subject to certain exceptions including where tobacco was prepared and packed for smoking.
"State and territory poisons legislation bans the commercial sale of nicotine for use in heated tobacco products because they do not fall within this exemption," the spokesperson said.
"Responsibility for these arrangements is shared between the Commonwealth, states and territories."
Regulations that applied to heated tobacco products drew on existing legislation that applied to poisons — including nicotine, conventional tobacco products and therapeutic and consumer goods, the spokesperson added.