At a summer event in London, JTI showcases some of the devices that may help England achieve its smoke-free ambitions.
By George Gay
In his U.K. government-commissioned review, “Making Smoking Obsolete” [in England], Javed Khan said he had seen no evidence of a plan by industry to move toward meeting the ultimatum “for industry to make smoking obsolete,” which was included in the government’s 2019 prevention green paper. I’m not certain what is meant by “industry” here, but assuming it means partly or exclusively the tobacco industry, and perhaps the nicotine industry, this statement seems extraordinary. After all, one of Khan’s reviews, “Critical Interventions,” recommends promoting as effective tools to encourage smokers to quit their habit some of the products that, for well over a decade, the tobacco and nicotine industries have been developing, making available and promoting insofar as they have been allowed to do so.
The independent e-cigarette industry has arisen almost solely for the purpose of converting as many smokers to vapers as possible—to making smoking obsolete, if you like. That is its raison d’etre. Of course, a purist might complain that individual vaping industry firms also want to make a profit, but making a reasonable profit provides funding for new developments and, more generally, makes the world go round.
So perhaps the government’s ultimatum was aimed only at the tobacco industry. But even in this case, it seems somewhat uncharitable not to give recognition to the enormous investments and efforts that have been made by tobacco companies in developing what I am comfortable calling lower risk products and, especially, in the scientific validation of their products’ lower risk credentials. And this is not to mention that, as far as I am aware, it was individual tobacco companies that first started to apply the concept of “harm reduction” to tobacco/nicotine consumption and that, in the U.K., first suggested setting a target date for ending smoking: 2027.
If my memory serves me correctly, the emergence of the tobacco harm reduction principle predated the arrival of vaping products and was based on snus, a product that is without doubt one of the least risky tobacco products of all but one that, inexplicably, was and is banned in the U.K. and one that Khan believes should remain banned. And it is worth mentioning that the country might conceivably have been well on the way to meeting the 2027 target if the government had been more ambitious and reacted more positively in 2017, when the target was suggested, largely based on the use of heated-tobacco products (HTPs). Certainly, I think the U.K. would have been in a better place if e-cigarette companies had been allowed to advertise the consumption of their vaping products as being 95 percent less risky than the consumption of combustible cigarettes, a figure that, to its credit, the government had long accepted.
Coincidentally, a range of U.K.-market, lower risk products was on display during Japan Tobacco International U.K.’s summer event held at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in London on July 13, one of which was launched in 2019 and another of which was launched in 2020—so, in line with the government’s ultimatum, though not necessarily in response to it. There were three products in all—a vaping device, an HTP and a nicotine pouch—so, at the very least, JTI U.K. must be given credit for having made a huge effort, if not toward making smoking obsolete per se but toward providing as far as it can the tools and encouragement for smokers to switch to less harmful products. It is, after all, beyond the power of a single company to “make” smoking obsolete; only the government has the power to come close to doing that and, no doubt for good reasons, it has chosen not to do so.
The summer event, dubbed “Innovating for Tomorrow,” was attended by about 300 people, including those representing trade and retail partners, community investment partners, agencies, think tanks and the media. About 20 politicians from across the political spectrum were also scheduled to attend, though whether they all tore themselves away from the Conservative Party’s leadership hustings in Westminster I don’t know. Given this attendance and an abundance of fine drinks and delicious food, it is not surprising that the evening was devoted, aside from two short speeches—by Charlie Cunningham-Reid, U.K. corporate affairs and communications vice president for JTI U.K., and Gemma Bateson, U.K. sales director—to relaxed discussions around and away from the product displays. On what was for England a hot day, the venue, with its two large, airy rooms and pleasant garden overlooking Hyde Park, lent itself to such discussions.
One of the products on display was Logic Compact (more information on the products displayed is available at www.jti.com/europe/united-kingdom), a closed-tank e-cigarette that is used with pods of e-liquid available in a range of flavors. At the display stand for these products, much was made of the high level of testing that was carried out on the devices and e-liquids. And, interestingly, a figure from the Office of National Statistics that was on display had it that about 3.3 million people in the U.K. used e-cigarettes, which was something of a testament to the effort that had been made by the vaping and tobacco industries to deliver smoking obsolescence.
The most recent JTI U.K. reduced-risk product to be made available on the U.K. market and that was on display at the summer event was Ploom, an HTP launched in 2020. Ploom is said to offer an authentic smokeless tobacco experience delivered through the action of an innovative heating technology that causes no combustion and no burning and therefore produces no smoke or tar. Consumers have already embraced e-cigarettes, and the government has largely accepted them, so JTI U.K. will be hoping to see the same level of acceptance for HTPs. These products are certainly likely to appeal to consumers on price, especially those used to paying around £9 ($10.77) for a pack of cigarettes. After an initial outlay of about £45 on a device, consumers pay about £4.50 for a pack of 20 EVO tobacco sticks, which come in a range of flavors and strengths.
Meanwhile, JTI U.K.’s Nordic Spirit nicotine pouches, which were launched in the U.K. in 2019 and are available in a range of flavors and strengths, are said to comprise a discreet product that can be used at any time since, on consumption, they produce no smoke or vapor and contain no tobacco. Here is a product, I think, that indicates the length JTI U.K. has gone to cut the use of combustible products. When it launched Nordic Spirit, the company could have had little idea how the product was going to be received because there was little knowledge about such products among U.K. consumers, who, after all, had not been allowed to buy snus, a cousin of the nicotine pouch. Surprisingly, perhaps, but encouragingly, participants at the London event were told that sales growth had been good, which is perhaps an indication of the importance of choice in offering alternative products to smokers, who too often are treated as if they comprised one homogeneous group with one set of likes and aspirations.
The news about the growing interest in nicotine pouches must be good, too, for the environment. This is a pared-back product that must have a low negative impact on the environment, a feature that we are all discovering is hugely important. I have to say, too, that during conversations around the display stands, I heard of the initiatives being undertaken by JTI U.K. to ensure that when alternative devices are no longer operable, they are disposed of properly. There is probably some way to go in regard to this, but you have to say that these efforts are likely to be some way ahead of those of the government. As I am writing this piece, of the five people still standing for the leadership of the Conservative Party and therefore to become the next prime minister, only one was unequivocally backing the government’s net-zero emissions by 2050 target.
It’s worth noting that a small pamphlet, “JTI U.K. at a Glance,” that was made available to participants at the summer event indicated that JTI is still committed, throughout its global operations, to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.