Tobacco Harm Reduction

Potentially less harmful products that adult smokers switch to are an opportunity for public health

Contrary to what many people believe, experts agree that nicotine, while addictive, is not the primary cause of smoking-related diseases. It is the toxic compounds that are found in cigarette smoke – most of which are formed when the tobacco is burned. This has been well known for decades, but advances in technology and consumer interest in innovative products that do not burn tobacco, such as e-cigarettes, prove that less harmful products could be more than just wishful thinking. Alongside government efforts to prevent initiation of tobacco use and encourage smokers to quit, a growing number of public health authorities and experts now believe that giving smokers access to less harmful alternatives can be a major benefit to public health. Their approach is often referred to as “tobacco harm reduction.”

Two conditions for achieving public health benefits

According to its supporters, tobacco harm reduction can play a role for public health if new products are developed that meet two conditions. First, they need to present less risk than continued cigarette use. Second, they should be satisfying so that smokers switch to them. For example, if an alternative product was proven to have a significantly lower risk profile but was not accepted by current adult smokers, its positive impact on public health would be very low.


The Harm Reduction Equation as presented at the E-Cigarette Summit by Clive Bates (19 Nov 2013) External reference



The public and private sectors are starting to embrace the public health opportunity new products provide

Governments can play a key role in appropriately encouraging the innovation, scientific assessment and promotion of less harmful alternatives for smokers. A 2014 report from Public Health England noted that, in order to harness the harm reduction potential of such alternatives, “appropriate regulation, careful monitoring, and risk management is needed. The US and the EU, among others, have already adopted, or are in the process of adopting, frameworks for alternatives to combustible cigarettes.

Some public health advocates who have long opposed smoking believe that the tobacco industry can also play a role in reducing the harm of smoking by developing and bringing to market less harmful alternatives to cigarettes. According to Gerry Stimson, a leading harm reduction advocate, We need to create a situation in which there are incentives for tobacco companies to gradually become nicotine companies…that their long-term profits are going to be in other products than cigarettes. External reference

Providing adult smokers with reduced-risk alternatives is a priority for PMI. Our substantial investment in the development of products with the potential to reduce risk, our understanding of what adult smokers are interested in, and the depth of our product development and assessment position us to continue to be the industry leader as this new category evolves.

Reduced Risk Products (RRPs) is the term we use to refer to products with the potential to reduce individual risk and population harm in comparison to smoking cigarettes. PMI’s RRPs are in various stages of development, and we are conducting extensive and rigorous scientific studies to determine whether we can support claims for such products of reduced exposure to harmful and potentially harmful constituents in smoke, and ultimately claims of reduced disease risk, when compared to smoking cigarettes. Before making any such claims, we will rigorously evaluate the full set of data from the relevant scientific studies to determine whether they substantiate reduced exposure or risk. Any such claims may also be subject to government review and authorization, as is the case in the USA today. - See more at: External reference

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