Tobacco giant Philip Morris launches anti-smoking campaign

A pack of Marlboro cigarettes.
Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Philip Morris has launched a campaign encouraging people to stop smoking, with ads in several U.K. newspapers on Monday.

The Marlboro-maker's "Hold My Light" campaign claims to be a "new way to give up cigarettes," and links to a website where smokers can create a profile and have friends commit to help them quit. People who sign up agree to have Philip Morris contact them about its Smoke Free Future program.

Charity Cancer Research U.K. criticized the move. "This is a staggering hypocrisy from a tobacco company to promote its own smoking cessation products in the U.K. while continuing to promote tobacco cigarettes across the world," the charity's Tobacco Policy Manager George Butterworth said in an emailed statement.

"The best way Philip Morris could help people to stop smoking is to stop making cigarettes," he added. Philip Morris International (PMI) makes 800 billion cigarettes each year, according to its website.

Most cigarette advertising is banned in the U.K., and as of May 2017, they had to be sold in plain packaging with health warnings.

Philip Morris in the U.K. is an affiliate of PMI, which is focusing on iQOS, a device that heats tobacco instead of burning it, which it claims is less harmful. iQOS is sold in 43 countries, but PMI is waiting for a decision by the Food and Drug Administration on whether it can be sold in the U.S.

PMI has two applications into the FDA: one seeking permission to simply sell iQOS, and one seeking permission to market it as a safer alternative to cigarettes.

The company announced third quarter revenue of $7.5 billion last Thursday, surpassing Wall Street estimates of $7.17 billion.

PMI had not responded to CNBC's request for comment at the time of publication.

  • CNBC's Angelica LaVito contributed to this report.