Modified risk tobacco products and the future of smoking

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Tobacco has been grown and consumed around the world for centuries and is widely accepted as a major source of income for many economies, including Zambia, which is one of the top five countries in the SADC region that exports tobacco and accounted for 9.7% of tobacco leaf production in Africa.

In taking steps to reduce tobacco production, Zambia signed the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) on May 23 2008 and ratified the treaty, a legal action indicating a country’s consent to be bound by its terms, on August 21 2008.

However, the country’s weak economy and strong tobacco interests make it difficult to achieve this goal and a 2017 World Health Organization STEPwise approach to surveillance (STEPS) survey in Zambia found the prevalence of smoking to be 23.0% in men and 2.0% in women.

On a global scale, while combustible cigarettes have been named by the American Center for Disease Control and Prevention among the number one causes of cardiovascular/respiratory diseases and also posing as the basis for several other health risks for both active and passive smokers for over 30 years, new innovations like the recently FDA authorized IQOS Tobacco Heating System with ‘Reduced Exposure’ produced my Phillip Morris International (PMI) and the Oral Tobacco Heated Snus have disrupted the tobacco ecosystem.  They have also presented hope for smokers and have led to a global exchange on views, ideas and reactions among public health experts, government representatives, investors, members of the tobacco/nicotine industries, global media round tables and several other tobacco smoking related forums.

In the 1950’s, smoking hazards were covered up by the tobacco industry public relations machinery according to research findings by Tobacco explained. In recent years, there’s has been a wave of instances where eminent tobacco producing companies like British American Tobacco and Philip Morris International  have come out in various ways to join with stakeholders and face the effects that nicotine causes and to also work towards elucidations with a belief that deepening the conversation about tobacco, nicotine and public health can lead to more informed views and decisions by all beneficiaries.

Several reports have provided evidence that tobacco harm reduction could substantially contribute to ending smoking as explained in the recently concluded Global Tobacco & Nicotine Forum (GTNF) virtual conference. Studies, dialogue, and research among other findings were presented by panelists and key stakeholders in the tobacco industry including discussions on the trending modified risk tobacco products and communicating their relative risks and debating possible outcomes.

The heated conversations of the day were centered around whether the new innovations will eventually be the long awaited solution for the “tobacco harm reduction” concept that includes lowering nicotine addiction, preventing usage in youth, lowering health problems and mortality rate that occurs as a result of smoking combustible cigarettes and overtime total withdrawal from usage: and whether or not the new products will actually serve the claimed purpose and lead to many other innovations to achieve a smoke free world.

On that note, the concluded GTNF virtual conference featured several key players in the tobacco industry who shared discerning discussions regarding the tobacco industry among whom was Moira Gilchrist, the vice president of strategic and scientific communications at Philip Morris International.  Moira spoke to journalists from different parts of the globe as she addressed issues regarding the current innovations, the future of combustible and non-combustible cigarettes, tobacco regulations and a message for tobacco smokers around the world.

When asked on the significance for PMI of the FDA MRTP orders, Moira expressed delight at what she termed “an important and somewhat historic milestone.” For the first time, a novel product received MRTP orders with reduced exposure claims in the U.S and it’s a really important precedent for demonstrating to everybody that not all tobacco products are the same in 2020.  This is something we’ve known scientifically for many years now as we PMI lead the building of the evidence package for IQOS, a THS brand.

In conclusion, with all the current shifts in tobacco consumer behavior, 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 for 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 in the future.

 

The Independent Observer

John Sakala is a Journalist yearning for independent journalism

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