Philip Morris International backs U.K. government’s efforts to accelerate country’s smoke-free ambitions

03 Nov 2021 · 3 min read
Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency issues guidance advocating for the medical licensing of e-cigarettes on prescription.
Commuters crossing London Bridge

PMI has welcomed the U.K. government’s plan to simplify the pathway to license electronic cigarettes and other inhaled nicotine-containing products (NCPs) as medicines.

Should guidance issued by the Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) become policy, the U.K. could become the first country in the world to offer medically licensed e-cigarettes and their provision via prescription—particularly to low-income smokers—as a means of further accelerating a decline in smoking rates.

According to Sajid Javid, the U.K.’s Health and Social Care Secretary, this could “tackle the stark disparities in smoking rates across the country, helping people stop smoking wherever they live and whatever their background.”

Importantly, the move would complement existing policies to encourage switching from cigarettes to smoke-free products to accelerate the country’s transition to a smoke-free future.

The U.K. already boasts one of Europe’s lowest smoking rates, with a large population of adult smokers—around 27.2 percent—having switched to a better alternative and abandoned smoking.

Recognizing the need for better alternatives

PMI firmly supports this proposed move by the U.K. to further reduce smoking rates—and praises its progressive approach to public health.

“The U.K. is a global leader in medicine, science and public health,” said Gregoire Verdeaux, Senior Vice President, External Affairs, PMI*.

“Expert scientific reviews in the U.K. and U.S. are clear that smoke-free alternatives—such as e-cigarettes—offer adults who would otherwise continue to smoke cigarettes, a better alternative.

“We welcome the U.K. government’s continued recognition that regulated e-cigarettes and other inhaled nicotine-containing products, while not risk-free, are less harmful than smoking and can significantly benefit public health.”

Verdeaux cites falling smoking rates in the U.K. as evidence of the important role better smoke-free alternatives play in tackling the persistent problem of smoking.

He commented: “The U.K. government’s progressive approach to tobacco harm reduction has already resulted in one of the world’s highest number of smokers who have switched to better alternatives like e-cigarettes, and one of Europe’s lowest smoking rates.

“This newly simplified, regulated prescription pathway brings an additional opportunity to help those in the poorer areas of England—where smoking prevalence is disproportionately high—abandon cigarettes.”

Giving adult smokers who don’t quit the chance to switch

Verdeaux also praised the lower taxation of non-prescription smoke-free products in the U.K.—compared to combustible tobacco and nicotine products like cigarettes.

This helps to incentivize “adult smokers who don’t quit tobacco and nicotine altogether to switch to less-harmful alternatives.”

And he hopes other countries recognize the advances the U.K. is making in its smoke-free aspirations.

“Income inequality affects smoking rates across the globe—smokers in lower income households are less likely to have access to these smoke-free alternatives,” said Verdeaux.

“As representatives from health ministries across the globe are shortly set to gather for an international meeting on tobacco control, we hope that other governments and regulators recognize the additional actions that the U.K. government is taking to offer better alternatives to adults who would otherwise continue to smoke cigarettes.”

Working together for a smoke-free future

PMI agrees that, while not risk-free, smoke-free products—when rigorously regulated and scientifically assessed—are less harmful than continued smoking and can significantly benefit the public health.

Through risk-proportionate regulations for all nicotine-containing consumer products, decision-makers can lay the foundations of a smoke-free future. All men and women who would otherwise continue to smoke cigarettes, regardless of their income level, should have access to—and accurate information about—better alternatives.

Whilst PMI does not believe that smoke-free products should be sold exclusively in pharmacies, we welcome a simplified, medicinal route—in addition to other comprehensive regulatory and supply measures—to encourage adoption of smoke-free products by adults who would otherwise continue to smoke. A smoke-free future is within reach, and it can be achieved more rapidly if all invested parties—from governments to civil society—work collaboratively to seize this monumental public health opportunity.

*Gregoire Verdeaux left PMI in April 2024.