Why was PMI in New York during UNGA 2019?

19 Sep 2019 · 5 min read
We were in New York during the United Nations General Assembly because we wanted to be a part of the solution to one of the world’s most pressing global challenges: smoking.
NYC skyline and the United Nations

Every September, world leaders convene at the UN Headquarters in New York for the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), to discuss the world’s most pressing global challenges.

For the duration of UNGA, hundreds of sidelines events take place in and around the city. These are organized and attended by media, advocates, government advisers, business leaders, members of the public… and us.

We were in New York to be part of the conversations, to share who we are and what we stand for with the outside world, through honest and transparent dialogue.

During events such as these, we want to engage with everyone who – like us – wants to live in a world without cigarettes.

Image © Getty Images

Taking corporate responsibility, debating smoking alternatives, sharing smoking statistics and collaborating, to create a smoke-free world.

In 1997, a roundtable organized by the UN Focal Point on Tobacco or Health laid down a call to action, effectively challenging manufacturers to take corporate responsibility by moving towards reducing the toxicity of existing tobacco products for those smokers who do not quit.

We accepted that challenge. We’ve spent USD 6 billion on research since 2008, employed hundreds of world-class scientists and created a range of acceptable alternative products that, unlike combustible cigarettes, do not generate smoke.

In 2016, we publicly pledged to make the world smoke-free and provide options for those millions of adult smokers who continue to smoke. Reasonable minds might well differ on why were in New York. On the other hand, instead of ideology, a transparent, non-biased discussion should be the cornerstone of the drive to realize a world without cigarettes.

PMI was in New York to have conversations and find real solutions to rid the world of cigarettes. We were there to talk and we were ready to listen.

We were in New York to do the following:

✓ To share our vision: we want the world to go smoke-free.

✓ Share our scientific findings.

✓ Push for more ambitious targets than those currently set by the UN, because third-party scientific papers have shown that cigarettes sales have declined up to five times more quickly when smoke-free products have been introduced into a market.

✓ Have civilized conversations with all parties – including those that disagree with us. We believe that – if they listen to the facts – they can be persuaded that a smoke-free world is possible sooner than they think.

✓ Listen to the concerns of all stakeholders in the debate. We welcome robust debates –backed up by science – and believe that collaboration is the key to a smoke-free world.

Image © Getty Images

We knew that many of the conversations we would have during UNGA Week would be difficult. Not everyone was going to be willing to listen to us. The easy thing would have been to go away quietly and let the status quo remain. But we will not be silent. We owe it to adult smokers to be heard.

We agree with government leaders, NGOs and public health bodies’ sentiments that the best thing a smoker can do is to quit cigarettes and nicotine altogether. However, we need to recognize that in any given year, about nine out of 10 men and women who are already smoking will continue; in turn, their risk of smoking-related disease will continue to increase. It’s these adult smokers we need to provide with more options.

Many of these adult smokers are being deprived of access to, and information about, smoke-free products, because of regulations. Meanwhile, in the very same countries, cigarettes continue to be sold. By choosing to ignore facts surrounding the smoke-free alternatives and taking an ideological stance, such tobacco-control policies condemn adult smokers to just two choices: continue smoking cigarettes or quitting. If only the world was that simple…

Image © Getty Images

Today, there are 1.1 billion smokers in the world, according to WHO estimates. And there will still be more than 1 billion by 2025. It’s clear current regulations are not solving this issue fast enough. Things need to change. And they can change, if we all push to bring together companies, policy makers and the public to put aside preconceptions and idealistic solutions and really talk about how we can help adult smokers to make better choices.

It’s time we recognized that every adult smoker is different, and will not always make the best choice, which is to quit altogether. It’s time for solutions – and more than one solution – to give adult smokers the highest chance of leaving cigarettes behind for good.

Let’s put the people who really matter – men and women who smoke cigarettes – at the forefront of tobacco policy, and find solutions that can work in the real world.

To discover the challenges ahead, click here, or join the conversation @insidepmi.