The Sunday Mail
Health experts consider combustible cigarettes among the number one causes of cardiovascular or respiratory diseases. Smoking is believed to pose significant health risks for both active and passive smokers.
In the 1950s, the hazards of smoking were reportedly covered up by the “tobacco industry public relations machinery”.
Understandably, there have been campaigns against smoking.
But new innovations such as Philip Morris International (PMI)’s IQOS tobacco-heating system that cause significant tobacco harm reduction and reduced exposure have, however, raised expectations that they could substantially contribute to ending smoking.
Further, there have been open and transparent conversations among public health experts, governments, investors and the tobacco industry at various fora on nicotine, tobacco and public health.
One such forum was the recently held virtual Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum (GTNF), where PMI’s vice president of strategic and scientific communications Dr Moira Gilchrist fielded questions on current innovations, the future of combustible and non-combustible cigarettes, tobacco regulations and a message for tobacco smokers around the world.
All these conversations are relevant to Zimbabwe, which is one of the major tobacco producers in the world.
Q: What is the significance for Philip Morris International of the (US) Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Modified Risk Tobacco Product (MRTP) orders?
A: For us and for me personally, because I was involved in the very beginning, it is really marked an important and somewhat historic milestone. For the first time, a novel product received MRTP orders with reduced exposure claims in the US, and I think it is a really important precedent for demonstrating to everybody that not all tobacco products are the same in 2020. This is something we have known scientifically for many years now as we were building the evidence package for IQOS. And I am really grateful now that the FDA went through the rigorous process of reviewing all our science and came to the decision to grant the orders that they did.
Now is the time for other countries to have a look at what FDA has done and think what it means for their own tobacco control policy and think what it means to not only bring better products but also information that would help guide their choices.
Q: How do you think smokers around the world should respond to the FDA announcement on MRTP?
A: I think smokers are all generally interested in alternatives to continued smoking. I think there a high level of interest in smokers all around the world and I think what smokers can do is to inform themselves about the products, the better choices that exist today, the science and also please hurry and make a better choice than continuing to smoke if they are not willing to quit. To be clear, these products are not a replacement for quitting; the best thing any person who smokes can do is to quit altogether, but we also know that the vast majority of smokers in any country in any given year do not quit so they should arm themselves with information about the better choices that exist today, and ones that are backed up by science like IQOS and they should switch completely as quickly as possible.
Q: When in your opinion will the FCTC (World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control) take tobacco harm reduction on board?
A: I cannot answer for the FCTC clearly, but I really do hope that they start to really look in depth at the science and all the scientific opinions about products like electronic cigarettes, heated tobacco products and SNUS (moist powder tobacco smokeless tobacco) as well. This is important because the science is really compelling and unfortunately there seems to be a group of quite influential people who are serving biased information to the FCTC that is only one part of the story, and I think by opening their minds and by looking at all the evidence that is available and also looking at the FDAs decision-making process, we can move towards a situation where adults who otherwise want to continue to smoke are given truthful information and access to these better products.
Q: Do you think harm reduction with alternative products such as electronic products that are expensive can work in lower-income countries?
A: Of course, harm reduction is for each and every adult who smokes anywhere in the world and that is why we need a range of different products to suit different adult’s preferences. Some people prefer electronic cigarettes, some people prefer heated tobacco products, and others prefer oral tobacco products like Snus. Within those ranges of different products, there are products with different price categories and I think that’s really important, and as a company we are focused on bringing all these products not just to the developed countries, but to middle-income countries to make sure everybody has access to better alternatives.
Q: How comparable are the obstacles harm reduction policies are facing in tobacco compared to other risk reduction areas?
A: I recognise that I am working with an extremely emotional subject and I think emotion gets tangled into the debate every single day in a way that perhaps other industries don’t face. I do think there are more obstacles in the way of tobacco harm reduction than in other sectors. Are those obstacles insurmountable? Absolutely not. It is about science, scrutiny, oversight, proper regulation and policy-making. So, as an optimist, . . . I do believe we will get past the difficult times we have been through in the last several years to a point that is much more positive and puts smokers – men and women who smoke and otherwise will continue to smoke – right in the centre of this discussion, along with science, so that we can move forward as quickly as possible.
Q: Should public health face the consequences for some of the misleading information they put out in much the same way that the tobacco industry was censured with sensitive information in the past?
A: It is not my position to comment on that, but what I would do is just caution that we are in a situation today where the adult people who smoke are utterly confused, and I think all of us have a responsibility to ensure that those people have accurate, up-to-date and scientifically backed information to help them make better choices.
I think we should all play our responsible role now. Whether it be me as a tobacco industry representative, I think I will be very careful of every single word that comes out of my mouth, and think very carefully about the consequences not just from a legal perspective but also in terms of our duty to be accurate and non-misleading to consumers.
I think if people in some of these special interest groups who have a very emotional reaction to these products were to think very carefully about the words that they are using and the confusion that they are causing, whether deliberate or non-deliberate, it will help us move forward into the future positively. I cannot judge but everybody needs to do their part to clear out confusion and not add on to it.
In conclusion, with all the current shifts in tobacco consumer behaviour, progress requires attention to market forces. New tobacco technology innovations will cut risks as the current science and research is indicating, but also smarter regulators like the FDA are supporting smokers in switching to tobacco harm reduction products. As a result, science-based information on the true benefits and risks will create demand to change, leaving companies to compete in lowering risks via alternative nicotine products.
Rapid progress toward tobacco harm reduction and smoking cessation is to be expected over time. – Wires/The Sunday Mail.