Smokeless Products - Is Prohibition Against Health?

Tommaso Di Giovanni, Vice President International Communications · Philip Morris International
16 May 2023
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AllAfrica InfoWire (Washington, DC)

Technovation is a bi-annual event organized by Philip Morris International (PMI) in its Research and Development headquarters in Neuchatel, Switzerland.

The first one of the year was held on May 9th, 2023, and media worldwide were invited to discover the company's latest innovations.

PMI has led a transformative operation to become a "majority smoke-free business by 2025" and spent over $10 billion in R&D. "26 million smokers have switched to PMI's smoke-free alternatives and have stopped smoking. We plan to reach 40 million by 2025" said Stefano Volpetti, President SFP Inhaled Products and Chief Consumer Officer.

In spite of these results being praised by the company, they still struggle in some regions and countries where those alternatives are simply banned.

The leading opponent to the tobacco industry is the World Health Organization which, in its treaty, (the first global public health treaty) states that "it provides a global response to a global problem – namely, the tobacco epidemic. It is an evidence-based treaty that reaffirms all people's right to the highest standard of health."

Thus, the international organization considers everything that comes from the tobacco industry a threat to health.

Grégoire Verdeaux, Senior Vice-President for External Affairs pointed out what he called "contradictions":

Technically, the International Treaty on Tobacco is 1: prevention; 2: cessation: 3: taxation (which, frankly speaking, is a fallacy). As a specialist, there are very few examples showing that you actually regulate consumption by taxation. But something that is also in the treaty is another pillar, the fourth one, which states that if you have done all of this (prevention, cessation), and it didn't work, you should try harm reduction which is basically offering adults smokers who cannot quit, less harmful products."

However, WHO remains inflexible on smokeless products. This is what the organization reaffirmed at the last Conferences of the Parties (COP):

"It recommended Parties to prioritize measures that prevent initiation of novel and emerging tobacco products, protect people from exposure to their emissions, prevent health claims being made for such products, avert their promotion, regulate the contents and disclosure of the contents of novel and emerging tobacco products, and regulate, including restriction or prohibition of the  manufacturing, importation, distribution, presentation, sale and use of novel and emerging tobacco products, taking into account a high level of protection for human health."

For Tommaso Di Giovanni, this inflexibility is in reality an ideology matter and not favorable at all for the next coming COP, which will take place in November 2023 in Panama:

"Unfortunately, the WHO is looking at these products through the lenses of ideology. The WHO leadership on several occasions clearly said that their goal is to fight the industry. But fighting the industry is not what is in the statute of the WHO. In their statute, the mandate is clearly stated as improvement of the health of people who smoke.  That is in their statute. They should go back to their original goal, look with neutral eyes at evidence and practices of other industries, allow for dialogue and leverage science for the good of people".

For PMI's CEO, Jacek Olczak, there is a need to bring coherence to the table:

There are countries where smokeless products are simply banned while cigarettes are allowed. What exactly are we trying to achieve? Because we know what cigarettes can cause and what smokeless products cannot cause. So now, if you look at the statistics of the market where those products have been present for 5, 7 or more years, you see a decline in the rate going to 30, 35% of the total cigarette market."

Smoking prevalence has indeed decreased in some countries such as Australia, England, Japan, and New Zealand. Those are countries where regulation is favorable to market these new products. A number of organizations, such as Public Health England, (which operates within the British Department of Health and Social Care) have issued studies in the last few years affirming "that e-cigarettes were 95% safer than combustible cigarettes".

Their research shows that the level of dangerous toxins that are responsible for causing disease are substantially lower in these products than in traditional cigarettes.

In LMICs and Africa more specifically, smoking prevalence has reached higher rates these last years. It remains clear for many that there is a possibility to lower that rate by welcoming those alternatives.


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