The most common way for governments to react whenever the smoking versus health debate is brought to the table is to propose regulations to limit the sale, advertising, distribution and consumption of tobacco or nicotine and most at times the proposals get the backing of the World Health Organisation (WHO).
However, there is a need to assess whether the alienation of stakeholders while formulating policy governing the distribution of tobacco products is the right way to approach the matter.
Any major decision regarding smoking ought to be transparent, science-based and people-centric. Bringing everyone to the table is likely to yield more balanced decisions that not only put the health of the smokers first but do so after factoring in a wealth of opinions.
Philip Morris, the multinational cigarette and tobacco manufacturing company known for brands such as Marlboro last year announced that it will be moving away from manufacturing cigarettes in favour of smoke-free products.
Alternatives to Smoking
Dr. Moira Gilchrist, Philip Morris International’s Vice President of Strategic and Scientific Communications said this was informed by the need to provide smokers with smoke-free alternatives.
“Over the last decade, we’ve spent more than USD 7 billion in research, product and commercial development, production capacity, scientiﬁc substantiation and studies on adult smoker understanding,” said Ms. Gilchrist.
“We want to switch at least 40 million men and women who would otherwise continue to smoke to our smoke-free products by 2025. By then, we want smoke-free products to be at least 40 percent of our net revenue,” she added.
Dr. Gilchrist also stressed that stopping the manufacturing of cigarettes abruptly would not yield the desired results as other players would step in and meet the demand.
“We know that if we stop selling cigarettes overnight, it will accomplish nothing from the perspective of public health. Globally, Philip Morris International (PMI) has a market share of approximately 15 percent, which represents about 150 million men and women who smoke our cigarette brands,” said Ms. Gilchrist.
“If those brands suddenly became unavailable, our competitors—both the lawful and the illicit ones—would quickly step in to meet the demand. Our decision would do nothing to change the desire for cigarettes, and people would continue to smoke,” she added.
The company has responded to calls from various quarters who have been asking tobacco industries to develop less harmful products.
In Kenya, regulators also target cigarette and alcohol manufacturers when they are squeezed for revenue. British American Tobacco (BAT) Managing Director Beverly Spencer lamented the tough regulatory regime of the company’s products when releasing the company’s financial results last month.
Last year, alcohol manufacturers were hit when former Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich imposed more taxes on alcoholic beverages.
There is growing evidence that legally sold and scientifically verified products that do not combust, like e- cigarettes and heated tobacco products, while not risk-free, are a much better alternative to cigarettes for those who would otherwise continue smoking.
While there has been no conclusive study disputing the safety of smoke-free devices, closest was research by University of California’s scientists Stanton Glantz and Dharma Bhatta which concluded that conventional cigarettes and vapers carried similar risk, with increased likelihood of a heart attack when both are used.
The study was later retracted by the Journal of American Heart Association, where it had been published, on account of ‘misleading data’ that did not consider some information on tobacco and health from a relevant population assessment survey.
Make no mistakes, smoke-free products are not risk-free, they contain nicotine, which is addictive but is not the primary cause of smoking-related disease.
Decades of science show that it is the burning—or the combustion—of tobacco that causes the vast majority of the harmful and potentially harmful constituents in tobacco smoke.
On one hand, smokers should not be denied their right to smoke and on the other manufacturers should work on eliminating combustion.