The renowned global health expert explains how innovation represents the single biggest opportunity to lower the health toll of tobacco use.
By Taco Tuinstra
Until recently, few people would have mentioned the words “tobacco” and “innovation” in the same sentence. Even as other legacy industries started disrupting their respective operations, the tobacco industry remained content to milk its tried-and-tested business model and count on the habit-forming properties of nicotine to sustain its business.
That has changed dramatically over the past 15 years. Advances in technology, together with shifting attitudes, have turned the once-staid nicotine business into a cutting-edge innovator. The modern e-cigarette was not invented by the tobacco industry, but when it started making inroads around 2008, the industry recognized its potential and devoted considerable resources to its perfection. The ensuing disruption to the nicotine business prompted one major financial institution to rank the impact of e-cigarettes in the same league as that of 3D printing.
And it didn’t stop there. Tobacco companies went on to develop a host of additional reduced-risk technologies, such as tobacco-heating devices. Some even began applying their expertise in agronomy, product development and substance delivery to create nonrecreational products, such as vaccines, pharmaceuticals and therapeutic devices.
The topic of innovation has always been dear to Tobacco Reporter’s heart. Not only have we covered it frequently in our columns; we have also created a competition dedicated to industry innovation—the Golden Leaf Awards.
Astonished by the radical transition taking place in the industry, and excited about what it promises for the future, Tobacco Reporter decided to devote an entire issue to the topic of innovation.
To ensure the topic would be treated with the breadth and depth it deserves, we partnered with one of the world’s most prominent advocates for public health progress through innovation: Derek Yach. Formerly with the World Health Organization and the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, Derek was deeply involved in the creation of the Framework Convention for Tobacco Control—a document that was prepared when King Combustible still ruled supreme.
Since leaving the WHO, Derek has spent much of his time encouraging health authorities to recognize the unique public health opportunity presented by innovation, urging them to accommodate, rather than frustrate, new technologies.
Tobacco Reporter spoke with Derek about Tobacco Reporter’s special issue and the importance of innovation.