Philip Morris Chairman Has Musk Moment at Shareholder Meeting

(Bloomberg) -- In an exchange reminiscent of Elon Musk’s recent clash with analysts, the debate got heated at Philip Morris International Inc.’s annual shareholder meeting.

Although corporate calls and investor events tend to be procedural -- even boring -- the tobacco giant’s chairman didn’t hold back as gadfly shareholders took aim at the company’s heat-not-burn iQos device, a key product in its plan to combat falling cigarette sales.

“I don’t think that deserves an answer, and I wonder why you’re a shareholder,” Louis Camilleri, who chairs the seller of Marlboro cigarettes for overseas markets, told one attendee who’d accused the company of using its lobbying efforts to “drive a wedge in the public health community.”

Another investor, who argued in a question-and-answer session that iQos is essentially just a new channel to fuel consumers’ nicotine addiction, was told to “read some science.” The device is not “some plastic version of a combustible cigarette,” Camilleri said. “Get your facts straight, and then come back next year.”

While corporate chieftains have long favored keeping things banal, Camilleri’s comments illustrate how some are taking unconventional approaches to fend off criticism from the investing community. Earlier this month, Tesla’s chief executive officer Musk told an analyst that he was asking “boring bonehead questions” that were “not cool.” That abrasive behavior prompted Tesla to become a punchline on other companies’ otherwise run-of-the-mill calls this earnings season.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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