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Tobacco industry set for transformation

By Everson Mushava

Leading international tobacco company Philip Morris International (PMI) says a transformation from cigarettes smoking to a science-and technology-led smoke-free future could be achieved in many countries in the next 15 years.

PMI, engaged in the manufacture and sale of cigarettes, is undertaking research in smoke-free products and associated electronic devices and accessories as well as other nicotine-containing products in markets outside the United States.

The company has now produced a new product, Iqos, a reduced risk tobacco product that allows for smokeless consumption, an innovation set to increase international demand for the golden leaf, giving a lifeline to tobacco-producing countries including Zimbabwe.

Through research, PMI is attempting to build a future on a new category of smoke-free products that, while not risk-free, are expected to be a much better choice than cigarette smoking.

In a statement released last week, PMI said with the right regulatory encouragement and support from civil society, a smokeless future can be achieved in many countries in 10 to 15 years.

“Science is central to delivering on this commitment,” the company said in a statement.

“Since 2008, PMI has invested billions of dollars in developing, testing, and manufacturing better alternatives to cigarettes for adults who would otherwise continue to smoke.”

The company added: “These products are the result of nearly two decades of research and development work, underpinned by a rigorous scientific assessment programme and led by a team that today includes more than 430 world-class scientists and other experts.

“We make our scientific findings and methods available for others to scrutinise, we invite independent research into our products, and we encourage a broad, science-based conversation with regulators, scientists, and the public health community about these better alternatives and the role they can play in tobacco control and harm reduction.”

The company has also undertaken a study to find out if governments were committing to science and research to inform their policies.

The report — titled “In Support of the Primacy of Science” from research conducted by Povaddo on behalf of PMI between June 25 and July 8, 2020 — concluded that citizens around the world want governments, public authorities, and private businesses to prioritise science and facts when tackling critical issues.

The survey covered a population of
19 000 adults drawn from 19 countries including South Africa.

“The global insights reveal that faith in science is high; with most people surveyed (77%) hopeful that advances in science will solve many of society’s biggest problems,” part of the report read. 

“Supporting this view, there is also strong interest in businesses prioritising science, with 90 percent of respondents saying it is important for businesses to continually invest in science to improve their products.

“Despite these positive attitudes, nearly half of respondents (47%) believe that society does not place enough importance on science.

“Given the diverging opinions, the white paper challenges the need for regulators to place greater focus on science to inform policy decisions, with half (51%) of respondents believing that their ‘government does a good job ensuring science and evidence are included in the decision-making process’.”

Moira Gilchrist, vice-president for strategic and scientific communications at PMI, said: “Science can help make significant strides in our collective efforts to address the world’s most pressing problems.

“Unfortunately, governments and broader society have yet to embrace science at its fullest potential, as this global survey shows.”

He added:  “Ensuring facts and evidence are given greater prominence in policymaking — over ideology, politics, and unsubstantiated beliefs — will help match the public’s expectations for science to sit at the heart of decisions impacting them and their future.”

Gilchrist concluded: “This finding is alarming and sends a clear signal across business, media, and government that accurately communicating scientific information should remain an important priority.

“When reliable scientific information is in short supply, misinformation, wild guesses, and hearsay can take more space and significantly hamper people’s ability to make informed decisions.”

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