Philip Morris is selling life insurance. Yes, that’s right. The 172-year-old cigarette and tobacco giant that sells around $6bn worth of cancer-causing products to over 180 countries every year is making a move into the UK life insurance space.
“It’s life insurance for people who love life,” its website says. Starting from £5 a month, it’s also for people who are on the hunt for life insurance cheaper than a pack of Marlboro Lights.
What do people love more than bargains? Incentivised bargains. Former smokers and smokers who quit or switch to a potentially less life-threatening addiction, such as a vape or e-cigarette, will be offered a 2.5% discount on premiums.
That discount will be even greater if they take up Philip Morris’s heated tobacco product iQOS for at least three months (25%), and bigger still if they give up smoking for a year (up to 50%).
You only have to die to get the main prize.
Philip Morris is on a very public mission to get people to stop smoking – a 2018 ad from the firm urged people to stop buying its cigarettes and take up smoke-free alternatives instead.
But selling life insurance to ex-smokers feels a bit like McDonald’s starting a liposuction business; Mike Ashley campaigning to pay exploited warehouse workers minimum wage; or KFC opening a refuge for factory farmed chickens.
Philip Morris, the multi-billion pound business which has profited from reducing the life expectancy of many people, which has contributed to smoking becoming the leading cause of preventable death, now wants to put a premium on smokers’ lives.
It has described the move as a “win-win”. For Philip Morris and shareholders, of course it is. It makes perfect business sense. People are, in general, smoking less and vaping more. It is doing what any smart business would do and following market trends. One commodity to another slightly less cancerous one.
It is almost certainly no coincidence that the new business has no obvious association to Philip Morris.
But for prospective customers, whose lives have already been impacted in a number of ways by an addiction to cigarettes, “win-win” is like blowing smoke in their face. That’s before we even factor in the number of people that have lost their lives to cigarette-related illnesses, or those that live with chronic conditions even years after giving up.
It is almost certainly no coincidence that the new business, cryptically named Reviti, has no obvious association to Philip Morris.
On the face of it, it looks like a new London-based life insurance brand for smokers, led by former Gryphon Group Holdings boss Daniel Pender. The only mentions of Philip Morris on its website are in its FAQ or buried deep in the scroll.
So when it says ‘Kick life’s bad habits. Get Reviti life insurance’, and ‘Life’s not fair. Our insurance is’, it feels like any other life insurance strapline. It’s all smiles and laughter because Reviti believes we’re each a perfect work-in-progress.
Knowing it is a product from Philip Morris, however, tars it with a sinister sense of irony.
‘Life’s bad habits’: Are those the habits it has been complicit in creating, fuelling and monetising for almost two centuries?
‘Life’s not fair’: What’s not fair? Addiction? Cancer? Lung disease? Death?
It is still very early days and Reviti is little more than a very purple website. But the distance between Reviti and its owner and the stark differentiation between the two brands is a clever move that will possibly help to keep raised eyebrows at bay in the long run.
It will be interesting to see how Reviti is marketed and whether there are any synergies or crossovers with Philip Morris’s own marketing and brand strategies; whether their marketing teams work together; whether Philip Morris’s foray into life insurance can survive in a world where people are lightening-quick to call brands out.
The issue is not with Philip Morris’s efforts to get people to stop smoking. We are all familiar with the horrid consequences of smoking thanks to doctors and graphic photos on cigarette packs accompanied by messages about impotence and death. And the majority of people would probably agree that a world with fewer cigarettes and tobacco products is a better one.
It is a bit like Shell’s renewable energy efforts and pledges to ‘decarbonise’ the planet. Any move to create a more environmentally sustainable future should be applauded, but that doesn’t change the fact that Shell is still drilling for oil and has been responsible for a number of oil spills over the years, the effects of which are still being felt to this day.
The diversification into life insurance fits in line with Philip Morris’s overall strategy to get people to smoke less and vape more, so on a business level it is a move that makes sense.
But until Philip Morris stops selling products which result in the death of millions of people every year, putting a price on life, and making money from it, leaves a bad taste.