Tobacco Harm Reduction Network (Thailand)

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Consumer-Centric Tobacco Harm Reduction Needed

Tobacco harm reduction is one of the more effective tobacco control measures, especially when compared to methods such as bans and tax hikes, and is increasingly popular. It is also a measure that the tobacco industry contributes positively to in the form of innovative, reduced-risk next generation products providing safer alternatives to combustible cigarettes.

While the industry invests in the r&d that enables it to deliver these innovative products, focusing on reducing harm to people’s health from smoking and answering growing consumer demand for such products, its motives in doing so continue to be questioned by the public health and anti-smoking sectors.

“The tobacco industry is not what tobacco control portrays it to be,” said Laura Leigh Oyler, vice president of regulatory affairs for Turning Point Brands, speaking at a recent conference. “[Tobacco control] demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of how businesses work, frankly, and of smokers’ behavior focusing on the consumers. It bars science from voices it doesn’t like or doesn’t want to hear from. It shames and harasses anyone outside the industry who would dare speak up in favor of tobacco control policy. Worst of all, it actively misinforms smokers about the facts on nicotine.

“There’s an immense amount of classism on the part of the tobacco control movement,” Oyler continued. “[They assume] nicotine is by and large a drug that poor people use primarily in the form of the combustible cigarette. Tobacco control policies have purposefully marginalized and stigmatized smokers. Although they remain in our society, they are practically invisible. These policies are often born out of a sense of protectionism. Smokers aren’t viewed as having agency for themselves or as being people who make decisions. They’re viewed as having been tricked into addiction, in need of protection from the industry, not as adults who deserve accurate information about the products that they routinely consume.”

Public health’s tobacco control measures that aim to eliminate combustible cigarettes altogether do a disservice to the one billion adult smokers in the world as these measures strip away choice from these consumers. As the industry continues to introduce new reduced risk products, it is necessary it does not to forget that smokers are a consumer group that should not be ignored or made invisible in the drive for tobacco harm reduction.

“The onus is on us more than ever as an industry to step up and provide increasingly healthier choices which also better satisfy the needs and the desires of our consumers,” said  Stefan Bomhard, Imperial Brands’ c.e.o also at a recent conference. “We will only continue to make progress if smokers – our consumers – are  appreciated as active citizens, informed consumers, and diverse individuals. That for me means there’s not a single route to a better, healthier future. This is about one billion very individual consumer journeys.”

Bomhard stressed Imperial’s 100% commitment to the combustible market while also being committed to help provide healthier choices, pointing out the importance of first-hand consumer insight. “Every consumer is different, and it’s important that we as an industry understand that and then communicate as responsible industry players with other stakeholders and bring the consumer more to the center of the debate about harm reduction.

“Always think about the consumer,” he emphasized. “Regulators are super important and other players are important, but if the consumer’s not going to come with you on that reduced harm reduction journey, then it won’t be successful in the long term.”