In an era of uncertainty, science can unlock the door to a smoke-free future

22 Jan 2020 · 4 min read
UYM Moira Gilchrist thumbnail

written by

Dr. Moira Gilchrist, VP, Strategic & Scientific Communications, PMI

UYM Moira Gilchrist

As a scientist and advocate for “better,” PMI’s commitment to offer science-backed alternatives to cigarettes aligns with my own desire to make a real difference that could positively benefit public health.

It is the job of all scientists at PMI to ensure that only smoke-free products which robust science demonstrates are a better alternative to continued smoking are brought to market.

The public appears to share this view, and supports the comprehensive scientific assessment program central to our business. Our January 2020 white paper, “Unsmoke Your Mind: Pragmatic Answers to Tough Questions for a Smoke-Free Future”, based on a global survey of more than 17,000 adults, shows that 89 percent believe manufacturers should conduct robust scientific assessments on their smoke-free products.

So far, we have invested USD 8.1 billion in the research and development of our smoke-free platforms, and have hired more than 430 leading scientists and technicians, who have put their reputations on the line to deliver unparalleled products.


Unsmoke Your Mind: Pragmatic Answers to Tough Questions for a Smoke-Free Future


When I decided to join PMI in 2006, many people were surprised, myself included. After all, I’d previously worked for a cancer-fighting charity and had been a smoker myself. But once I’d investigated the research PMI was working on, I began to understand the “Big Idea,” and I was keen to get on board. 

A science-based decision 

I’d also worked in R&D for the pharmaceutical industry, and so appreciated the power of utilizing innovation and science to address health problems and ultimately improve public health. My work at PMI—helping develop smoke-free alternatives that are a better choice for smokers who’d otherwise continue smoking and which smokers will switch to completely and abandon cigarettes—has a similar goal, and a similar reliance on innovation and science to get there. 

While there is no question that the best choice any smoker can make is to quit tobacco and nicotine altogether, the fact is that many don’t. The achievements of our scientists, as well as scientists working for other companies and organizations, may hold the key to a major breakthrough in public health, because science-backed smoke-free products are a much better alternative to smoking for this large population.

Our survey shows strong public support for better alternatives in moving adult smokers away from cigarettes. A few key findings are:

  • 79 percent of respondents said they want governments to focus on reducing smoking rates.

  • 85 percent agree that smokers should have access to scientifically substantiated smoke-free products and accurate information about them.

  • 73 percent said that encouraging smokers to switch to better alternatives if they don’t quit can complement other efforts to reduce the societal harm caused by smoking.

We are producing science-backed alternatives capable of playing a role in the change the public is demanding—and what we see is that harnessing these innovations could dramatically accelerate the end of cigarette smoking.

We are producing science-backed alternatives capable of playing a role in the change the public is demanding—and what we see is that harnessing these innovations could dramatically accelerate the end of cigarette smoking.
Moira Gilchrist, Vice President, Strategic & Scientific Communications, Philip Morris International

We know our science stands up to scrutiny, and we share it with the scientific community, regulators, and the general public. We also invite—and receive independent scrutiny of our products from scientists, as well as from regulators. Yet misleading rhetoric and rumors on the internet can blur the lines between true and false, as much of the coverage of the vaping-related illnesses in the U.S. illustrates. 

Opening up the conversation 

With a growing volume of scientific material vying for attention online, there’s a risk of Gresham’s Law prevailing—that is, bad science drowning out the good. That, in turn, can lead non-experts to undervalue science per se as just another sales trick.

We must not let this happen. We at PMI will continue to inform the public about the robust science behind our smoke-free products, as well as busting myths, which can easily become “facts” in many people’s eyes.

One key fact I will never tire of repeating is that cigarettes and smoke-free alternatives are very different. While smoke-free products contain nicotine and are not risk-free, they can be a much better choice than continued smoking. That’s because it is the burning of tobacco that causes the production of the vast majority of harmful chemicals that are the primary cause of smoking-related diseases. By eliminating the burning process—as is the case with smoke-free products—the levels of harmful chemicals generated can be significantly reduced compared with cigarette smoke and this, of course, needs to be scientifically assessed for each product.

We’re confident in our science, and we invite constructive conversations with more regulatory and political communities that could open gateways to societal transformation, by allowing adult smokers access to, and accurate information about, these products. It’s also why we believe new regulatory frameworks—exclusively based on scientific facts—are necessary. 

What we’re doing is good for our business, for smokers, and for public health. I’m here to help deliver products backed by meticulous scientific processes that are a better alternative to continued smoking. This can help address a global public health issue, by serving as a complement to existing measures designed to prevent initiation and encourage cessation.

At the end of the day, we want to give the hundreds of millions of men and women who would otherwise continue smoking the choice to use a better alternative than a cigarette. I hope that’s something we can all agree on.