Free smokes for nightclubbers: Philip Morris readies “Legal Age Meeting Point” tactics for Hong Kong

Phillip Morris plans to target Hong Kong nightspots to promote its products (Photo: Ines Yeh)

Phillip Morris plans to target Hong Kong nightspots to promote its products (Photo: Ines Yeh)

Philip Morris International (PMI) is recruiting an executive to run “Legal Age Meeting Point” (LAMP) campaigns in Hong Kong, mirroring controversial tactics already used to build market share in India and threatening a deluge of free cigarettes aimed at converting young Hong Kongers to the company’s brands.

In a job ad, PMI seeks candidates to “plan and implement adult consumer engagement activities and events in Legal Age Meeting Points (LAMP) within boundaries of the legislative and regulatory framework”.

LAMP tactics were first exposed by Reuters in India as skirting cigarette promotion laws there, with internal PMI documents revealing a strategy designed to hook youngsters on the company’s leading brand Marlboro. The Indian government responded with a letter to PMI claiming such activities “are a violation of the country’s tobacco control law and are subject to punishment under the act”. That letter was sent in August 2017, and no further action has been reported.

In Hong Kong, the LAMP executive will be expected to build and maintain relationships with “night entertainment outlets, identify the right channels and organise campaigns”. The executive will also be expected to “stimulate product awareness and improve brand dedication and image”, while the ideal candidate will have “sound knowledge and deep understanding in LAMP area.”

Such activities could well fall foul of Hong Kong’s Smoking (Public Health) Ordinance, according to the government’s Tobacco Control Office. Speaking with Blue Skies China, Assistant Clerical Officer Helen Kwok said “All tobacco promotion is prohibited. Even you suggest or request someone to purchase or smoke cigarettes, it’s prohibited.”

However, with a maximum penalty of HK$50,000 and a daily charge of just HK$1,500 for every day the offence continues, according to Kwok, the law may not deter a deep-pocketed promotional campaign – in 2014, for example, Philip Morris estimated it spent US$1.6 million (HK$12.5 million) on LAMP events and sampling at kiosks in India.

In practice, prosecutions would be unlikely too: LAMP agents are well-trained to work within the “boundaries of the law”. According to PMI’s Indian playbook, LAMP agents are advised “Do not say this is a ‘PROMOTION’ or “ADVERTISING’, while the company warns “Do NOT allow anyone to click pictures of you”.

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About James Ockenden (300 Articles)
Writer, journalist and sustainability consultant with a passion for clean technology and public health. 25 years covering power and energy markets: former editor of Power Plant Technology, International Power Generation, Asian Electricity, Aircraft Economics, Energy Risk, Asia Risk, Benchmark; writer for South China Morning Post, Cathay Dragon's Silkroad, APlus, Veolia's "Planet", Hong Kong Tatler; founder of Blue Skies China. MSocSc in Corporate Environmental Governance, University of Hong Kong; BA & MA degree in Natural Sciences (major in Materials Science & Metallurgy), Cambridge University.
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