Tobacco harm reduction (THR) has arrived at a critical stage, according to Kingsley Wheaton, chief marketing officer at BAT. In 2021, some countries banned or heavily restricted reduced-risk products (RRPs) despite the scientific evidence supporting their benefits. If the World Health Organization tries to further choke off the category during its meeting in November, that would seriously undermine progress in RRPs. “THR is neither a battle to be won nor lost; it’s about science, consumer choice and the need for pragmatic solutions,” said Wheaton. “If we fail to come together and find solutions, then there will be no winners. It will be hard to imagine anything more damaging to global THR efforts than further exclusion of these alternative products.”
While RRPs are not completely risk free, they are far safer than combustible products. About 100 million smokers have already switched to RRPs. Restricting access to RRPs, Wheaton said, was both misguided and repressive. “In light of evidence showing that former smokers might revert to combustible cigarettes, governments should be revoking bans on alternative products, not introducing them,” he noted. “A whole-of-society approach is required.”
Maximizing the impact of THR requires an evidence-based approach, proportionate regulations, freedom to innovate, engagement in dialogue and communication, and responsible marketing practices, according to Wheaton.
The impact of THR could be larger still if the scientific community paid serious attention to the potential of RRPs to help adult smokers. Wheaton cited a massive study of BAT’s Glo tobacco-heating product (see “Milestone Study,”. Tobacco Reporter, July 2021), which revealed biomarkers comparable to smoking cessation. Furthermore, clinical modeling data, he said, had shown that by 2100, smoking may lead to 30 million life years lost.
Wheaton emphasized his company’s commitment to encouraging smokers to switch, stressing BAT’s ambitions to have 50 million consumers for its noncombustible products by 2030. But he was concerned about the high level of misinformation among consumers. Despite the growing body of evidence supporting reduced-risk products, 62 percent of respondents to a 2018 European survey believed that e-cigarettes are more harmful than combustible cigarettes—an increase from 59 percent in 2016. “This is a development that concerns BAT, and it should concern society,” said Wheaton. “While this should be the basis of public health policy discussions, there was a vociferous minority in the public health community that did not believe in THR, causing a detrimental effect on development and ultimately holding back collective progress. “Nowhere in history has exclusion been useful—we need inclusive solutions.”
The way forward, Wheaton explained, is to continue innovation and create a vaping experience that closely mimics smoking. “Innovation should be fostered and focus on consumers’ needs,” he said.