• April 23, 2024

The Time is Now

 The Time is Now

David O’Reilly

David O'Reilly (Photo: BAT)

Making tobacco harm reduction a reality has never been more important.

Never has tobacco harm reduction been more important than in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Public health bodies are now, more than ever, focusing on broader health issues and how they can optimize outcomes while also making the most of their resources. Minimizing the negative public health impact caused by smoking cigarettes continues to be a major challenge that many are trying to tackle, with some countries, such as the U.K., setting themselves ambitious targets to eliminate cigarettes entirely. The real question is, how can they effectively deliver on this goal? 

We know from experience, such as the U.S. prohibition of alcohol, that simply banning popular consumer products does not work. Based on the evidence, we believe that the most effective way to tackle this issue is through tobacco harm reduction. Policies that are bold, progressive, forward-looking and, most importantly, backed up by robust scientific evidence must be created and embedded into society.

The reality is that people continue to smoke despite awareness of the adverse health risks associated with doing so. These are smokers who would benefit from greater access to alternative products that can effectively deliver nicotine and provide an enjoyable and, importantly, reduced-risk alternative to smoking.* It is this group of people for whom effective tobacco harm reduction policy matters most.

BAT is steadfast in its position that the best thing people can do to protect their health is to not start smoking or to quit smoking. We encourage those who would otherwise continue to smoke to switch completely to a scientifically substantiated, reduced-risk alternative. Products that contain nicotine but do not involve combustion (the burning of tobacco at up to 900 degrees Celsius) emit far fewer and lower levels of toxicants compared to conventional cigarettes and have the potential to be significantly less harmful to health.

The availability of scientifically substantiated, less risky products such as vapor products, tobacco-heating products and modern oral products are crucial to effective tobacco harm reduction. Product regulations should recognize the role these alternatives can play in harm reduction by ensuring that high quality product standards are enforced, that consumers have access to information to make informed choices and, critically, that underage use is prevented.

Smokers who wish to continue using nicotine via these less risky alternatives should not be punished by regulations and legislation that deprives them of information and denies them access to these products—a system that does not recognize the rigorous scientific process that goes into developing these reduced-risk products.*

This view is shared by many within the public health community, including Public Health England. However, there are some organizations and public health bodies that disagree with the concept of tobacco harm reduction. Often, this is because the available reduced-risk alternatives are not entirely risk free, which BAT acknowledges. That doesn’t mean that consumers should be denied the choice to make use of alternative products that reduce the risk of harm versus continuing to smoke.

At BAT, we support regulation that is founded on scientific evidence that can effectively reduce the projected health impact of smoking around the world. Tobacco harm reduction underpins our clear purpose to build “A Better Tomorrow” by reducing the health impact of our business. We have been clear for many years that our business needs to be built on outstanding products, informed consumer choice and a drive toward a reduced-risk portfolio, which is underpinned by world-class science. We are doing this by providing consumers who would otherwise continue to smoke cigarettes with a range of less risky ways of consuming tobacco and nicotine.*

We recently conducted a long-term randomized, controlled trial of our tobacco-heating product, Glo, which lends credibility to the harm reduction potential of the entire category of high-quality tobacco-heating products. Surely, even our detractors can see the benefit in this landmark new clinical study showing that the health risks of cigarette smoking may be reduced in smokers who completely switch to using tobacco-heating products.

We advocate for a collaborative, multi-stakeholder approach to advance tobacco harm reduction. We want to see meaningful change in the development of tobacco and nicotine policy. Industry, government, scientists, regulators and governing bodies must put their differences aside and come together in order to create effective tobacco harm reduction policy and provide better alternatives for those who would otherwise continue to smoke. This is not something that can be tackled by one group alone. Engagement, dialogue and communication among all parties is what is required in the development of effective policy. By adopting a more inclusive stakeholder approach to tackling tobacco harm reduction, we can make progress much more quickly.

We have a goal of 50 million consumers of our reduced-risk noncombustible products by 2030. Every one of these individuals matters. So, to me, this is 50 million reasons why tobacco harm reduction matters and 50 million reasons to believe in “A Better Tomorrow.”

* Based on the weight of evidence and assuming a complete switch from cigarette smoking. These products are not risk-free and are addictive.