Saturday, 04 July 2020

Even Philip Morris is pivoting to the blockchain

A year ago, pivoting to the blockchain was all the rage. If you were a company in dire straits, all you had to do was gin up a press release explaining that you were investing in bitcoin’s underlying technology and then–voila–you had a new business model.
Camera companies did it, iced tea companies did it; you name it–they all went blockchain.

Although the dust has slightly settled since then, it seems like Philip Morris International–the corporation that helped get the entire world addicted to tobacco–is also looking into a blockchain pivot. Nitin Manoharan, Philip Morris’s global head of architecture and tech innovation, said at an event in London today, “We want to do public blockchains,” reports Coindesk.

What does that mean, exactly? According to the executive, the multibillion-dollar company would use blockchain to track tax stamps that are printed on cigarette boxes. Those are the printed stickers that are put on cigarettes to prove that a tax has been paid. Philip Morris reasons that by no longer doing the stamps in such a slow analog fashion–and instead performing the transactions on a digital public ledger–the company could save a much as $20 million a year.

This comes as the tobacco giant clamors to find ways to stay relevant in the 21st century. Altria, the tobacco company that spun off from Philip Morris in 2008, bought a 35% stake in e-cigarette manufacturer Juul last year. And Philip Morris has begun offering life insurance for people who quit smoking. This is likely because tobacco use has dropped significantly over the years, according to the CDC, meaning the corporation needs to find both new items to get people hooked onto as well as ways to cut costs.

Blockchain, I guess, is a way to do the latter. Manoharan said that tax stamps were one of six potential uses for which the company could use the new buzzword technology. These pilots are slated to go live within the next year.

We’ll have to wait and see if Philip Morris’s presence is able to bring even more derision to an already-derided sector of the tech industry.

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