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Innovation drives move to safer smoking

Everson Mushava

Cigarette smoking remains one of the leading causes of preventable diseases and deaths despite a decline in the number of smokers over the years.

Tough anti-smoking regulations and campaigns rolled out globally in the past decade have not succeeded in forcing a huge number of people to quit cigarette smoking.

According to the World Health Organisation, tobacco kills more than seven million people each year, six million of them from direct tobacco use while around 890 000 are non-smokers exposed to secondhand smoke.

In the United States alone, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Center for Tobacco Products (CTP), cigarette smoking is responsible for 480 000 deaths annually, more than the combined deaths from HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol abuse, motor vehicle injuries and firearms.

More than 34 million US adults and over 1.4 million of youths between 12 and 17-year-olds smoke.

Another 16 million Americans live with diseases caused by smoking cigarettes.

But Paige Magness, senior vice president of regulatory affairs for Altria Client Services said a 10 year vision to achieve a non-smoking era and transition to non-combustible smoking was possible through science and research.

“A market place of potentially reduced risk products including vaping is truly within sight,” Magness told a virtual Tobacco and Nicotine Products Regulation and Policy Conference organised by the Food and Drug Law Institute last month.

In the past decade, the tobacco industry has been making strides in developing alternative products aimed at reducing the risk of smoking to those, who fail to quit.

Philip Morris International, an American tobacco giant, through scientific research, has developed a heating tobacco system; IQOS, unique in that it heats tobacco, but does not burn it.

The innovation is driving a switch from conventional combustible cigarettes to risk-modified innovations, which significantly reduce one’s exposure to harmful chemicals.

The electronic IQOS device generates a nicotine-containing aerosol by heating tobacco-filled sticks wrapped in paper, specifically Marlboro Heatsticks, Marlboro Smooth Menthol Heatsticks and Marlboro Fresh Menthol Heatsticks, all brands by the American giant.

Magness urged the introduction of science-based national policy that can turn smokers into non-smokers, adding: “A market place void of smoking is possible” due to science and research.

She said non-combustible tobacco products backed by research will significantly reduce the harm on public health.

FDA in July this year gave Phillip Morris the greenlight to market its IQOS in the US, and although research is ongoing, it has been established that by heating tobacco in controlled temperatures, production of harmful chemicals produced through combustion are significantly reduced.

Brittani Cushman, Turning Point Brands, SVP external affairs and deputy general counsel, also speaking during the FDLI conference, said science based innovation remained the key to reduction of harm in tobacco smoking.

Dennis Henigan, Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, vice president (legal and regulatory affairs) said all discussions on tobacco should seek to protect consumers from predatory tobacco companies.

“Tobacco products should be regulated in a manner that protects public health,” Henigan told the FDLI conference held from October 21 to 23.

He said the FDA was entering into a new era in tobacco regulation where it will subject new products to public health tests, encouraging the regulatory body to be firm and transparent in its enforcement of regulations.

Henigan expressed concern over the rise in the uptake of flavoured e-cigarettes by youths, which has risen from 60% in 2016 to 83% in 2020 and driving a new pathway to addiction.

Cliff Douglas, University of Michigan Tobacco Research Network director underscored the need for consumers to have a better understanding of the effects of tobacco including relative risks of all nicotine products.

He said the FDA had clearly stated that nicotine was not directly responsible for tobacco caused cancer, lungs and heart diseases that have killed hundreds of people in America.

He, however, said nicotine remains the prerequisite for mass casualties.

Douglas also said some consumers wrongly believe that vaping products are as harmful as smoking cigarettes and “this underscores the urgent need for education.”

He noted that some observers believe that a non-combustible era will soon be achieved in the US after the FDA in 2017 concluded that reducing smoked tobacco will improve public health.

“Given the extreme risks cigarette smoking poses to the public health,” said Mitch Zeller, director of FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) in May this year.

“New proposed warnings of this type are critical to promote greater public understanding of the risks associated with cigarette smoking.”

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