Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

U.K. Tobacco Giant Gets Medicinal Cannabis Expertise

  • Simon Langelier chairs a Canadian medicinal marijuana company
  • Langelier headed Philip Morris’s next-generation products unit

Imperial Brands Plc gained the services of a leader in the field of medicinal cannabis as the British tobacco manufacturer seeks to further its push beyond cigarettes.

Simon Langelier, a 30-year veteran of Philip Morris International Inc., joined the board as a non-executive director this week, the Bristol-based company said in a statement Tuesday.

Langelier is chairman of PharmaCielo Ltd., a supplier of medicinal-grade cannabis oil extracts. He joined the Canadian-based company in 2015 after a career at Philip Morris that included heading up the next-generation products unit from 2007 to 2010. Imperial stands to benefit from his experience in tobacco and “wider consumer adjacencies,” Chairman Mark Williamson said in the statement.

About 18 months after jettisoning the word “tobacco” from its name, the appointment advances Imperial Brands’s efforts to move beyond its main product, as smoking rates in developed nations dwindle. While focusing on e-cigarettes, Imperial previously resisted another alternative to cigarettes -- heated tobacco devices, but that stance could be easing. Philip Morris’s main reduced-risk product is a heated tobacco device called iQOS.

In May, Imperial’s Chief Development Officer Matthew Phillips said the company was assessing whether demand for heated-tobacco devices would pick up outside of Japan, where iQOS has captured 7.1 percent of the country’s cigarette market since its launch in 2015. The company could have a product on the market within months, if needed, he said.

“Imperial’s one-pronged strategy in next-generation tobacco isn’t particularly wise,” Eamonn Ferry, an analyst at Exane BNP Paribas, said by phone. “It’s sensible that they appear to be now softening their stance on heat-not-burn, given the success of the format in Japan.”

At Philip Morris, Langelier established a joint venture for the worldwide commercialization of the company’s smoke-free products.

His experience at PharmaCielo will be beneficial in helping Imperial eke out opportunities should marijuana be legalized at the federal level in the U.S., Ferry said. The expertise tobacco firms have in crop farming and distribution has spurred speculation that they may eventually seek to enter the cannabis market. Cowen & Co. estimates the U.S. part of the industry will surpass $50 billion in sales this decade.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.
    LEARN MORE