Ex-Prime Minister Albig becomes a lobbyist for tobacco company Philip Morris

Status: 09/01/2023 12:58 p.m

Torsten Albig, former head of government of Schleswig-Holstein, will work for the US tobacco company Philip Morris. Changes of former top politicians to corporations have repeatedly caused controversy.

Schleswig-Holstein’s former Prime Minister Torsten Albig (SPD) has switched to the tobacco company Philip Morris as a lobbyist. The 60-year-old will head the External Affairs division of the Germany subsidiary of the global cigarette manufacturer, as announced by Philip Morris GmbH.

“I want to support the company in its transformation from a tobacco manufacturer to a supplier of low-emission products,” said the ex-politician to the dpa news agency. He was referring to the Iqos tobacco heater, which Philip Morris is heavily promoting, but whose market share is still small. If adult smokers switched to such products, this would have the potential to reduce health risks, says Albig. “The best thing is of course to stop smoking.”

The social democrat claims to be a non-smoker. “I’ve never smoked a cigarette in my life.” His mother and grandparents, on the other hand, were heavy smokers, which is why all three had serious health problems. “My mother kept wanting to quit smoking, but she always started,” says Albig. If there had been products with reduced pollutants back then, “then that would have been an option for her and she might have been spared a lot”.

Controversial tobacco heaters

Albig advocated a different approach to smoking and more information campaigns. In Italy and Japan, low-emission products have a significantly higher market share than in Germany. He also refers to Sweden, where only a few people smoke. The tobacco product snus is widespread there – which is not smoked but pushed under the upper lip. The snus manufacturer Swedish Match belongs to Philip Morris, but the product cannot be sold in Germany.

Tobacco heaters, on the other hand, are also available in this country. British American Tobacco is competing with Philip Morris with the glo brand. The products are controversial. On the one hand, there are voices that see it as a lesser evil. Unlike cigarettes, tobacco is not burned, just heated. On the other hand, the German Cancer Research Center, for example, warns against playing it down – even tobacco heaters are bad for your health. In the absence of long-term studies, the exact consequences are still unclear.

The tobacco giant Philip Morris International (PMI) wants to break away from the classic cigarette business in the long term and is therefore marketing products such as Iqos, e-cigarettes and nicotine pouches worldwide. However, the largest share of sales still comes from the sale of brands such as Marlboro and L&M.

When politicians change sides

The personal Albig could cause controversy. When asked if he was harming his party by moving into the controversial tobacco industry, Albig said Philip Morris was “a significant company” with an important goal, which is to sell significantly more low-pollution products than before. “Regardless of me, it’s always good for my party when its members find acceptance in business and take on leading roles there.”

Born in Bremen, Albig was Mayor of Kiel from 2009 to 2012 and then Prime Minister of Schleswig-Holstein until 2017. After losing a state election, the SPD politician withdrew from active politics and went to Brussels for four years, where he became head of the Deutsche Post DHL representative office. In 2021 he moved to the Federal Association of German Postal Service Providers for a good year.

Changes from top politicians to large companies or associations have repeatedly caused a stir. Matthias Wissmann (CDU) was Federal Transport Minister in the 1990s, and from 2007 to 2018 he was the top car lobbyist in Germany as President of the Association of the Automotive Industry. The former Minister of State in the Chancellery Eckart von Klaeden (CDU) became the chief lobbyist of the Daimler Group in 2013. The ex-Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) advised the controversial meat company Tönnies. And the former Greens member of the Bundestag Matthias Berninger works for the agrochemical group Bayer.

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