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(Bloomberg) -- Philip Morris International Inc. said it will spend about $1 billion setting up a foundation to reduce the prevalence of smoking as the maker of Marlboro cigarettes aims to convert smokers into consumers of devices that don’t burn tobacco.

Derek Yach, a former World Health Organization official who worked on a global tobacco treaty, will lead the group, according to a statement Wednesday. The cigarette maker said it plans to spend about $80 million annually over 12 years on the project, starting in 2018.

More than 3 million smokers have switched to Philip Morris’s IQOS, which heats rather than burns tobacco. The Marlboro maker has applied to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval to market the device as a product that may reduce the risk of smoking-related diseases. The FDA said in July it’s considering regulations that would reduce the nicotine in cigarettes below addictive levels, which led to a slump in tobacco stocks.

The new group, called the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, said it will fund research, evaluate the impact of smoke-free alternatives, measure progress toward eliminating smoking and consider ways to prepare tobacco farmers for reduced demand.

Yach and Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, will speak at a nicotine conference in New York on Wednesday to present the foundation.

To contact the reporter on this story: Thomas Mulier in Geneva at tmulier@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Eric Pfanner at epfanner1@bloomberg.net.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

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