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RBH Unsmoke Speech to the Empire Club of Canada

Unsmoke: Making Canada Smoke-Free by 2035

Peter Luongo, Managing Director, Rothmans, Benson & Hedges 


Thank you for having me here today.

My name is Peter Luongo and I am the Managing Director of Rothmans, Benson & Hedges, the Canadian subsidiary of Phillip Morris International.

So why am I here today?

As an executive with the world’s largest tobacco company it may surprise you that I’m here today to talk about our desire to create a smoke-free Canada – a future without cigarettes.

Imagine that. A Canada without cigarettes. By 2035. Hopefully even sooner.

Our society is in transition – in our workplace diversity, in the energy we use to heat our homes and move our cars, in the food we eat, in how we communicate.

And yes – even in how people consume tobacco.

So I am here today to talk to you about how - together - we can Unsmoke Canada.

Now, before I unpack that word – Unsmoke – I want to be very clear on one point. At Rothmans, Benson & Hedges, we want to help “Unsmoke” the world. And that includes guarding youth against taking up smoking, vaping, heating or any other form of nicotine.  

I want to be emphatic – our company believes that young people should never take up smoking, vaping or any other forms of these products.  


But how about “Unsmoke.” for adults?

Because that’s an odd word, isn’t it? 

But I hope it gets you to pause, turn your head and ask “What does that even mean?”

Because the idea to “Unsmoke” Canada needs a bit of reflection. And that’s the point - to prompt a pause … to provoke a question … to spark a conversation.

For us, the meaning of “Unsmoke” is clear – it means to rid your life of smoke. Simply put:

If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you smoke, quit. If you don’t quit, change.

It’s hard to argue with those three simple sentences – because if you smoke, and you don’t quit, change is a better choice. 

This is not a message people expect to hear from “Big Tobacco.”

In fact, people may not be willing to hear it from Big Tobacco. Good. Let’s acknowledge that. 

We can’t have a meaningful conversation about a better future unless we acknowledge where we have come from and where we are today.

But if we can be candid together … we if can be open-minded together … we can have a powerful conversation that creates extraordinary change in the lives of people who smoke.

And in the lives of people who love them.

That’s how we can start to “Unsmoke” Canada. Because we can’t do it alone.


Quick show of hands – how many people in this room would consider themselves smokers? 

I see, not many.

That’s not surprising. Smokers today often hide the fact that they smoke – even from people they know well.  Even from the people they love.

And what we don’t see, we think doesn’t exist. Out of sight is out of mind.

So it might surprise you that many Canadians do still smoke. 

In fact, nearly 5 million Canadians of all walks of life still smoke cigarettes regularly.

In total, there are more than 1.1 billion smokers around the world.

About 18 per cent of the world’s population still smokes. That’s despite fairly aggressive measures by governments around the world to reduce smoking rates.

And the World Health Organization doesn’t see that number changing much in the next decade or so.

A billion smokers today. A billion smokers ten years from now.

So how do we help those smokers?

Chances are, like me, someone you know or love smokes cigarettes. A spouse. A family member. Maybe a close friend or a co-worker. 

And it probably bothers you. In fact, admit it – you probably hate it. 

You want them to stop – yet you know, deep down, that they may never quit. 

So you’re torn. On the one hand, you want them to stop smoking. On the other hand, you know they haven’t quit, so you just wish there was a better way for them.

At RBH, we share that feeling. 

We all employ different strategies with people we care about who smoke.

Some believe slow and steady reminders to quit work… some believe in a ‘tough love’ approach… some believe you have to let the person figure it out for themselves.

But let’s be honest – we have all felt that internal conflict. 

That conflict of whether to leave our loved ones alone and “let them be” when it comes to smoking. Or whether to jump in and “make” them stop.

And if you think of any person you know who smokes, you would probably agree that you care about that person and wish there was something you could do to get them to change.

And you’re right to be pragmatic. You’re right to want an alternative for someone who doesn’t quit. And you’re not alone. Because at RBH, we care too – and we’re doing something about it.


Any scientist will tell you that the main problem with cigarettes is the smoke.

It’s not the tobacco. It’s not the nicotine, either. It’s the smoke.  

So, contrary to popular opinion, it’s not the tobacco that is the primary cause of smoking-related diseases. Nor is it the nicotine. Let me be clear – neither is safe nor risk-free.

But the main health risks from cigarettes come from the burning, the combustion process, and inhaling the smoke, which contains thousands of chemicals.

Public-health authorities have classified many, many toxic chemicals released in cigarette smoke that can cause diseases such as lung cancer, cardiovascular disease and emphysema. 

So, the big problem is the smoke – and the smoke comes from burning. 

In fact, any time you are around smoke of any kind, it’s not good for you.  Car, factory, forest fire. Whether it’s first-hand or second-hand, smoke is bad.

With a cigarette, it’s the burning process that produces the largest amount of harmful chemicals. And as I said, while nicotine is addictive, it is not nearly as dangerous as the smoke from a cigarette. 

That’s why you see nicotine replacement products sold in drug stores… nicotine patches, nicotine sprays, nicotine gum, you name it. 

But going back to the nearly 5 million people in Canada and more than 1 billion worldwide who still smoke, we know that these nicotine products don’t always result in a person successfully quitting. 

We know that part of the reason is that a patch or piece of gum doesn’t replicate the sensory experience a smoker has when they light a cigarette. 

Which made our colleagues at PMI ask the question: 

What if there was way to deliver nicotine that didn’t burn, was smoke-free, and helped people break away from smoking cigarettes?  

What if there was a way to “Unsmoke” the world and help those who smoke make better choices?


Because people have been consuming tobacco the same way for centuries — by burning it and inhaling the smoke. 

But it’s time for change. 

Technology is revolutionizing the way we live our lives. And now new technology could mean the end of cigarettes. 

I am not going to bore you with all the technical details but fundamentally, new technology is giving today’s smokers better options for their future.

The reality is simply this: It was industrial innovation that took tobacco into mass-produced cigarettes for smoking… and innovation is now taking the smoke out of tobacco.


Our parent company has invested nearly 9-billion dollars (and that’s ‘billions’ with a ‘B’) to find smokers a better alternative to cigarettes. We hired hundreds of the world’s best scientists, engineers and inventors and opened up a brand-new, state-of-the-art lab. 

With breakthroughs in science and technology PMI created a range of new, smoke-free devices that deliver nicotine without creating the same harmful smoke of cigarettes. 

PMI took a holistic approach because there is no one device that will work for everyone. 

The first of these products to be launched in Canada is called IQOS. It looks like a pen. It comes in a small rechargeable battery case that fits in your pocket. Sold separately are small tobacco sticks – we call them ‘heat sticks’ – that the user inserts into the IQOS device.

You then press the ‘on’ button and the pen’s battery heats the tobacco to less than half the temperature of a burning cigarette. Warm enough to release the flavor, and nicotine, but not hot enough to burn. 

Not hot enough to create the microscopic solid particles – the ash – that comes with burning. 

And that’s the key word – create – if the chemicals and the ash are not created – they don’t go into your lungs in the first place. Nor do those chemicals impact anyone around you – there is no more ‘second-hand smoke.’

It’s a scientific breakthrough that is getting noticed around the world.

Just this month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reached a milestone decision after reviewing extensive scientific evidence.

For the first time in its history, the FDA authorized an electronically-heated tobacco product for sale in the United States: It was IQOS.

After two years of review, the FDA determined that authorizing IQOS in the U.S. market is – and I quote – “appropriate for the protection of the public health.”

Let me repeat those words from the FDA: Our smoke-free technology was authorized for sale as “appropriate for the protection of public health”.

Among several key considerations, the FDA determined the product – and again, I quote the FDA own words from its news release – “produces fewer or lower levels of some toxins than combustible cigarettes.”

The truth is that ‘better’ is not ‘perfect’… So let me be clear – no tobacco product is risk-free. But not all tobacco products are the same. And new technology is giving smokers who choose to keep using tobacco a better option.

– and it’s time for this change.

You should know that I have lived this change myself. 

Six years ago I was an investment banker in New York and I smoked. 

At the time, Phillip Morris was a client and I began to see the prototypes of these new products for the first time. 

It was very, very interesting – both for me personally, but also, I thought, for society as a whole. And so, given the opportunity, I moved my family over to Switzerland to take a job with PMI and to start working on plans for the early launches of these products. 

What was interesting was that when we launched these products, we started to get: real data… real consumer reactions… and real scientific evidence… of the benefits of these products. 

And I had my true “ah ha!” moment where I could see actually the future – now, not with a crystal ball – you don’t know exactly what’s it’s going to look like, but you know this technology is going to radically change the world that we live in today.

So for me the handwriting was as clear as day on the wall – the future will be smoke-free. The only questions were how long it takes to get there and who will lead the transformation. 

In hindsight, there have been many other times in life when a new technology emerged that we should have immediately recognized as a game changer. 

Think of mobile phones – 20 years ago, you didn’t have to know what smartphones would look like today to understand that the mass availability of mobile devices would have profound impacts for industry and society. New technology that will be disruptive, that will lead to change. 

And when faced with this in business, there really are only two options: put your head in the sand, cling to an old model for as long as possible, and hope for the best. Or… try to lead the change, embrace the opportunity, build a better business and, hopefully, have a positive impact on the world in the process.

And that’s why I was extremely excited to move to Canada just over two years ago, to get out from behind my HQ desk job in Switzerland, and be a part of launching IQOS here in Canada.  Ok – that’s me.

But maybe you are thinking right now: ‘I don’t smoke, what does this have to do with me?”

But the truth is, we’ve all been impacted. And we can all be part of the solution.


Because in conclusion… we need to recognize that change is happening.

In only a few years, more than 7-million smokers in almost 50 countries around the world have quit smoking cigarettes entirely and changed to IQOS. 

That’s 7-million smokers who have significantly cut the risk of smoking on their health.

That’s 7-million smokers whose friends and family can feel better about the fact that, despite not quitting nicotine entirely, their loved ones have at least made a better choice.

And thousands more change every day. 

That’s progress. That’s a step to Unsmoke the world.

In fact, in Canada we have picked our date – by 2035… we want a smoke-free Canada. 

We want to see the end of cigarettes in Canada.

So what needs to happen for us to Unsmoke Canada faster?

Change will take effort from all of us. And just like the conversation we are having today, we all need to have conversations with: friends and family health-care professionals industry stakeholders and governments.

We need health care professionals and regulators to share a common-sense approach and give smokers better access to information about alternatives to smoking. 

Because there is a lot of confusion today, the restrictions for heated tobacco products, like IQOS, are virtually identical to those for cigarettes. And that’s wrong because of all the scientific evidence shows that IQOS is a better choice for adult smokers.

And we need you … we need you to believe that Canada should take a pragmatic approach to make better choices more available to current adult smokers.

It might be not be perfect –– but it’s progress.

Let’s face it… Smokers and the people who love them don’t need our judgment or moralizing. 

They need our care… our compassion… our openness. 

And they deserve our help. 

Our message is simple: There are alternatives. And together… we can Unsmoke Canada.

Thank you.