How Philip Morris International is investing in a smoke-free future
While healthcare providers universally advocate the cessation of any form of smoking, one company – Phillip Morris International – has adopted a strategy of weaning smokers off cigarettes by providing less harmful alternatives to cigarettes. “This common sense solution could play a role in reducing the number of people smoking cigarettes, which has the potential to improve public health,” said Dr Gizelle Baker, Director of Global Scientific Engagement at PMI.
“As a company we can’t do it alone” Dr Baker says. “Governments and public authorities have a critical role to play in defining the regulatory frameworks that recognise that not all tobacco products are the same so that they can maximise the number of adult smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke to switch to better alternatives. [And] at the same time minimising the number of youth and non-smokers exposed to nicotine-containing products and start using them.”
The company’s target, set three years ago, is to reach a point where what it refers to as smoke-free products account for 30 per cent of its shipping volumes by 2025. This would be the equivalent to approximately 40 million adults quitting cigarettes the company says.
Smoking is harmful and causes serious diseases. So, there is no doubt that the best thing is to never start, and for smokers to quit tobacco and nicotine use altogether.- Dr Gizelle Baker, Director of Global Scientific Engagement at PMI
“Since 2008, we have invested 7.2 billion USD (Dh26.4 billion) into the science and research of developing and assessing smoke-free products,” said Baker.
In 2019, 71 per cent of PMI’s commercial spend and 98 per cent of its R&D expenditure were allocated to alternatives to cigarettes. “We invested nearly Dh500M (120M CHF) in the construction of PMI’s R&D facility, the Cube, in Neuchâtel, Switzerland,” says Baker.
Factoring in the youth
In March, a study published in the journal Tobacco Control by the University of Bristol said that teenagers who use vaping products are five times more likely to smoke tobacco in later life.
Baker says that PMI has a strict policy where it doesn’t encourage younger smokers. “PMI has been clear that youth, former and never users of nicotine-containing products, should not use any tobacco or nicotine product. Smoke-free products are intended for one audience: adult smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke cigarettes,” says Baker.
“Alongside parents, public health professionals and regulators, we, as makers of tobacco and nicotine products, must do our part to prevent youth access.
“We develop all our communications for adult smokers - and we implement strict measures to limit youth exposure and access to our communications and products. We follow very strictly our Good Conversion Practices, which are a set of rules articulated to govern the marketing and sale of our smoke-free products.
“Everyone involved in our commercialisation activities – including employees and third parties acting on our behalf – must strictly follow our GCP without exception and regardless of country.”
PMI advocates the supervision and prevention of young people starting to smoke. “We support the monitoring of the uptake and use of these new products, especially among youth, so that swift action can be taken to correct issues that may arise with unintended use,” said Baker.
“This is what is happening in the US. The FDA concluded that the ‘available data, while limited, also indicate that few non-tobacco users would be likely to choose to start using IQOS including youth’.
“But at the same time acknowledges that there are uncertainties with any new product.”
According to market research from Arizton Advisory and Intelligence, the global vape market is set to reach revenues of more than Dh220 billion (60 billion USD) between 2020 and 2025. So, it’s understandable why some people might be skeptical of the motives of large corporations such as PMI.
Baker’s counter argument is that PMI’s approach is transparent. “We encourage independent experts to assess our scientific results and are committed to sharing scientific data for independent verification by qualified third-parties,” she says.
“To date, over 100 independent publications including studies and reports from government research centers such as the US FDA, Public Health England, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) have confirmed or verified important findings of our research.
“We are also clear that these products are not risk-free. They deliver nicotine, which is addictive, and the best option is to not use any tobacco- or nicotine-containing product. For adult smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke, these products are a better alternative.”