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Tommaso Di Giovanni, Vice President Philip Morris International

Can There Be An End To Cigarettes?

Philip Morris International plays an important part and has ramped up its efforts to communicate the benefits and risks to people who smoke despite old legislation designed for cigarettes. This company wants to leverage advances in science and technology and rapidly improve public health

We feel we have a responsibility to spark this debate, and to share our science and the progress that can be achieved thanks to technology and innovation. Old ideologies should be put aside; pragmatism and collaboration should become the rule of engagement – says PMI’s Tommaso Di Giovanni.

How to convince people who enjoy smoking and who do not want to give up their pleasure to try something new?

– This is a very good question because it nails the core of the challenge to replace cigarettes with better alternatives that can improve public health. Despite all efforts from authorities and NGOs, the vast majority of smokers simply do not quit. Even the WHO says that by 2025 we will have approximately the same number of smokers we have today around the world.

Convincing them that they should abandon their old habits and switch to RRPs is important if we want to leverage advances in science and technology and rapidly improve public health. Developing and scientifically assessing reduced-risk alternatives, such as IQOS, takes time and significant efforts but it is not enough.

It is important that smokers appreciate the product and that they understand its benefits and risks compared to cigarette smoking. Otherwise, why would they stop using a product that is very simple to use and that delivers a pleasure that is also derived by combustion for one that is more complex, as it involves use of electronics, and that does not involve the burning?

People who would otherwise continue to smoke need to receive accurate and easy to understand information about these products, and be encouraged to switch. We play our part, and have ramped up our efforts to communicate benefits and risks to people who smoke despite old legislations that were designed for cigarettes and that often do not allow to say much about alternatives – which is counter to common sense. It is now time for governments, NGOs and others to embrace the public health opportunity offered by these products and update old regulations. The US FDA did it, and has in place a framework that allows companies to communicate verified benefits on these products following a process of review of evidence to support specific claims to consumers. For instance, they recently authorized us to communicate to consumers that IQOS significantly reduces exposure to harmful or potentially harmful chemicals compared to cigarettes. Other countries, like recently Greece and Portugal, are moving in similar directions but change takes time.

It is time to look at science and innovation like one would do in other industries: with the consumer at the centre. Recent advances of technology and innovations create a great opportunity to accelerate improvements in public health. Inertia in the decision making and ideologies are slowing down this progress, with the consequences that smokers continue to use cigarettes

As a tobacco company you are more open to talk to public today than ever before? How does public react to your communication, having in mind history of negative perception of tobacco industry?

– We are more vocal, you are right. We do so because we firmly believe it is time to look at science and innovation like one would do in other industries: with the consumer at the centre. Recent advances of technology and innovations create a great opportunity to accelerate improvements in public health.

Inertia in the decision making and ideologies are slowing down this progress, with the consequences that smokers continue to use cigarettes. In countries where attitudes are more open towards innovation, including in tobacco, like Japan, approximately a quarter of smokers have switched and abandoned cigarettes. Cigarette sales declined to rates never provoked by any traditional tobacco control campaign. We need to have an adult conversation about this. Why should smokers in Serbia or elsewhere not be encouraged to switch to better alternatives? Otherwise, many may simply continue to smoke. And –de facto – being pushed to stay with cigarettes if they do not quit? We feel we have a responsibility to spark this debate, and to share our science and the progress that can be achieved thanks to technology and innovation. Old ideologies should be put aside; pragmatism and collaboration should become the rule of engagement. We owe it to smokers and those who care about them.

Today, external and internal communication is done digitally, through digital channels. However, does that not mean that analog communication is a thing of the past? Is it still important for companies like yours?

– There is certainly a trend towards digital but analog channels remain important everywhere. The most important thing is to ensure that adults who smoke have access to accurate information regardless of the medium of communication.

Did the FDA’s last year’ decision to classify the IQOS in the category of modified risk tobacco products (MRTP) help proper information about better alternatives to cigarettes reach ‘hard-core’ smokers, who are your target group, more easily? Did this decision ‘spill over’ to the rest of the world in regard to communication with users and how?

– The FDA reached this decision after a comprehensive analysis of hundreds of thousands of pages of scientific studies, two to three years after Philip Morris submitted the documents. Its decision clearly states that, whilst not risk-free, IQOS is substantially different than cigarettes, generates significantly lower levels of harmful compounds and switching completely significantly reduces exposure to harmful and potentially harmful chemicals compared to continuous use of cigarettes. Dozens of independent research organisations and government health authorities have confirmed important elements of our science but this was the most comprehensive assessment to date. In the US, adult smokers will receive this information and we hope it will convince to abandon cigarettes and switch to a better alternative to continued smoking, contributing to public health. The decision had global resonance. In many countries, public health experts and the authorities acknowledged its importance. While the decision applies to the US, we hope it will provide other government confidence in the science that backs up the benefits of IQOS and encourage a trend to replace cigarettes with IQOS or similar products that do not use combustion. People who smoke and public health truly deserve science and technology to be taken seriously.

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