Marlboro man seals Vectura takeover: Critics slam swoop on health firm

Marlboro man seals Vectura deal: Fury as shareholders vote through cigarette maker’s £1bn takeover of asthma inhaler firm

Philip Morris has sealed a controversial £1billion buyout of asthma inhaler maker Vectura despite a furious backlash from health experts.

Almost 75 per cent of Vectura’s shareholders backed the Marlboro Man’s takeover – throwing into question the City’s repeated commitments to ethical investing.

The tobacco giant – whose brands include Marlboro, Chesterfield and Parliament – has said the tie-up with the Wiltshire-based firm would help it transform into a broader ‘healthcare and wellness company’.

‘Healthcare and wellness’: Philip Morris – whose brands include Marlboro, Chesterfield and Parliament – has defied health experts to seal a £1bn buyout of asthma inhaler maker Vectura

But health specialists and politicians have vigorously campaigned against the deal – branding it ‘unethical’ and saying it could ‘kill the company’.

They raised concerns that Vectura could be frozen out of academic studies and conferences if it was owned by a cigarette maker.

Philip Morris had spent months competing with private equity giant Carlyle – with both putting forward multiple takeover bids – before Vectura’s board backed the tobacco titan last month.

The deal has thrown a spotlight on how far City promises to only invest in companies with good environmental, social and governance credentials actually go.

Investors including Legal & General backed the deal. L&G said it was ‘the optimal result for our clients, investors and the futures of both companies’.

Danni Hewson, AJ Bell financial analyst, said the takeover had been ‘uncomfortable’.

Hewson said: ‘Despite the ethical outcry, Vectura shareholders have succumbed to Big Tobacco’s big pockets.

‘However good Philip Morris’s intentions, the bottom line is with this acquisition it’s playing both sides, making money from tobacco which makes people sick and inhalers which help them feel better.’ 

Philip Morris boss Jacek Olczak says the Vectura buyout is crucial to the company’s Beyond Nicotine plan to move away from being a tobacco seller – and the group has said it intends to stop selling cigarettes in the UK within the next ten years.

Some have argued that Philip Morris – with billions of pounds at its disposal – is a logical buyer as it has huge funds at its disposal and is already ploughing money into non-tobacco products such as e-cigarettes. It intends to generate at least £725million a year from these lines by 2025.

But charities said Vectura had ‘sold out millions of people with lung disease’.

The FTSE 250-listed firm is one of the UK’s leading science companies. It makes inhalers and nebulisers – but also works with top drug companies such as Hikma and Glaxosmithkline to convert their medicines into powders that can be inhaled.

The company was founded in 1997 by students from the University of Bath and joined the stock market in 2004.

A coalition of 35 charities, clinicians and health specialists, including Dr Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians and Michelle Mitchell, head of Cancer Research UK, have written to health minister Jo Churchill urging the Government to block the deal.

Sarah Woolnough, chief executive of Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said: ‘Vectura has sold out millions of people with lung disease.’ 

She added the firm ‘is now owned by a tobacco company, and this could cause considerable problems, such as the firm being excluded from research and clinical networks’.

Labour health spokesman Jonathan Ashworth branded the Philip Morris deal a ‘disgrace’.

Lord Sikka, who advised MPs on audit reform, said: ‘The company is disabling millions of people by selling tobacco products to make profits.

‘Then it makes more money by selling asthma drugs. What next – go into funeral business?’