In a session exploring e-cigarettes and other heated tobacco products (HTP) Silvy Peeters, from the Tobacco Control Research Group at University of Bath, informed the audience that the global tobacco market is currently worth a staggering $785 billion, with two percent ($17.7 billion) generated by e-cigarettes and HTP.
In 2010, Japan Tobacco International was the first to successfully introduce an HTP product on the market. The current most widely available HTP product is IQOS from Philip Morris International which is available in 38 countries, with two-thirds of its consumers based in Japan. From 2013, tobacco companies have also been selling e-cigarettes.
The tobacco industry’s move into these products, and its support for tobacco harm reduction policy, has been used by the industry to position itself as a tobacco control policy partner and part of the solution to the tobacco problem.
Silvy shared evidence that suggests, however, that the industry’s activities are driven by the prospect of growth and increased sales and profits, and that harm reduction offers an opportunity for the industry to reposition itself as a ‘responsible’ industry, gain access to- and dialogue with- policy makers and public health experts, and undermine existing tobacco legislation (in particular smoke-free and advertising laws).
A key industry tactic used more and more is the use of third parties to act as its credible face. An example of this tactic, shared by Silvy, was the establishment of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, which is 100 percent funded by Philip Morris International (PMI).
Silvy called for public health and tobacco control advocates “to stick together” and not allow harm reduction to drive a wedge between the public health community as no one would benefit more from that than the tobacco industry.
She acknowledged that some of these products could play a role in public health, but only if this was supported by a strong body of independent evidence. She urged the audience not to buy into the smoke-free future touted by tobacco companies which is about profits not reduced harm, reminding us of one of the guiding principles of Art 5.3. of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control: “there is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and public health policy interests”.
Jekee Miraflor, Food and Drug Administration Philippines, spoke of his experience of tobacco industry lobbying for e-cigarettes, through the media and the national and local governments. He stated that the tobacco industry is trying to get the Department of Health to endorse e-cigarettes as supporting harm reduction and a cessation aid; and to acknowledge harm reduction as a strategy to be included in the National Tobacco Control Strategy 2017-2022.
Dr Gan Quan, Director of Tobacco Control at The Union, concluded, “We should remain vigilant towards tobacco industry involvement and promotion of these products, as there is a lack of conclusive evidence about the use of e-cigarettes.”