Philip Morris International has announced they are going to “build PMI’s future on smoke-free products that are a much better choice than cigarette smoking“.
WOW! That’s big news, though not as big as it seems, as so far PMI have only one smoke-free product (they have three more in development, two heat not burn and one vapour product) and no one thinks they will stop manufacturing and selling smoke producing cigarettes in the immediate future. Naturally, this news wasn’t greeted with applause from tobacco control. Instead, they responded with the usual suspicion, derision, and downright rejection. Hey Ho, that was to be expected. What was surprising was the reaction to Derek Yach’s involvement.
As the one who led the development of the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, you would think his name would lend weight to this move. Instead, he gets accused of going to dark side , his effort dismissed out of hand and shade thrown his way by tobacco control.
It’s not like he is working directly for PMI, in fact, he claims his independence remains intact. “The grant terms, bylaws, and non-profit status of the Foundation preclude PMI or other tobacco industry representatives from involvement in Foundation governance, or from having any influence over the Foundation’s funding decisions, strategy, or activities“. That’s from the Press Release from Foundation for a Smoke-Free World. It appears it’s an independent organisation which gets initial funding from PMI much more than it’s a front for PMI to influence policy.
However I can understand the scepticism, no one spends money without expecting something in return and as Cloe Franks, from the organisation Corporate Accountability International.says;
“With more and more countries implementing the lifesaving measures of the global tobacco treaty and institutions like the UN Global Compact severing ties, one has to wonder if this is simply another attempt by PMI to regain a lost foothold in international and public health arenas. At the very least, this is clearly an attempt to lock in e-cigarettes and other ‘reduced Harm’ products as the solution to the public health epidemic that PMI continues to drive and profit from.”
This caught my eye as it implies that e-cigarettes and other reduced harm products are not the solutions. Of course, whether e-cigs or other smoke-free products are part of the solution or part of the problem is the subject of the debate. But the answer is less inherent in the products themselves as it is in how they are managed and presented. The wrong regulation could easily end up turning e-cigs into training wheels for smoking while the right regulation could turn them into replacements for lit tobacco. Like any technology, it’s less about what the technology can do and more about what we do with it.
The reaction of some e-cig advocates, one of suspicion and mistrust is a different matter. E-cig advocates have a vested interest in the promotion of reduced harm products but some fear this is PMI attempting to corner the market for their own products. It probably is. Though it’s just as likely it’s PMI attempting to prepare the market for their products among other products. I doubt PMI see the myriad of small e-cig producers as direct competition. Their targeted rivals are now as always, other Tobacco Co’s. PMI target customer is the smoker. If this initiative can sway current smokers towards reduced risk products and away from lit tobacco, they have stolen a march on the other tobacco companies.
This open letter to PMI from a selection of tobacco control orgs demands they discontinue production, marketing and selling of cigarettes As though this would reduce the number of smokers or change the market in any way other than boost tobacco controls ego.
“Cigarettes cannot be “re-engineered” to make them acceptable in global commerce; they are inherently defective. There is no safe level of consumption, and they provide no necessary benefit to their consumers.”
So it appears tobacco control has set its face against any reduced risk product. As to not providing a necessary benefit? What kind of measurement is that? Very few products beyond food shelter and sanitation provide a necessary benefit. The rest are unnecessary benefits, some of which come with a cost. It’s the balance between cost and benefit that matters. The letter is nothing more than a reaction to this announcement because tobacco control fears its success.
If they do succeed not only will they have rebranded themselves but they will contribute dramatically to reducing the health toll of smoking. You can see why Derek Yach has been tempted to ‘the dark side’.
The rewards, if it works, are huge while the risk is nothing more than his reputation and one billion of PMI’s money. The fact that he has put his reputation on the line shows integrity on his part. The fact he has decided to concede a partial victory to the tobacco industry shows he is a pragmatist about achieving a smoke-free world. There isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of a 5% smoking rate worldwide (or anywhere at all) without the option of reduced risk smoke-free products.
Derek sees a worldwide problem which cannot be solved by small mom and pop stores fighting both the tobacco industry and tobacco control. Even with the lax regulatory regime vapour products have existed in for the last 12 years, they have only achieved a small penetration into the smoking market. So small that tobacco companies don’t even register the figure. In the U.K. and the U.S., the best they have achieved is around 15% penetration. If a smoke-free world is to be a realistic option, it’s going to require the marketing strength of a multinational like PMI and the support of public health bodies and governments. This Foundation for a Smoke-Free World is the first step in that direction. It will require goodwill from the aforementioned public health bodies, tobacco control and governments. Whether it gets that is another matter entirely.
Another matter is will it make any difference? We have seen in Australia how evidence was ignored, warped and misrepresented to continue the ban on nicotine. No amount of evidence or support from reputable public health bodies could shift the ingrained suspicion and fear of nicotine. I fear the same fate awaits any research from this foundation. ” Paid for by PMI” might be nothing more than an ad hominem but it works with politicians and regulators. If there is going to be an acceptance of harm reduction and adoption of reduced risk products it will depend on the work of advocates who promote the findings of foundations like this, who counter the junk science with reasoned arguments and it will also depend on PMI and JTI and BAT, who whether we like it or not dominate the market for tobacco products (and the sweet, sweet nicotine they confer) and will either come on board the reduced harm train or continue to fight against us.
We must welcome them cautiously but welcome them nonetheless, there are according to the W.H.O. 1.1 billion smokers worldwide, their’s room for everyone in the marketplace.