We take an open and transparent approach; by sharing information about potentially reduced-risk products through external peer review, scientific collaboration and discussion, and we are building a reputation as a credible source of science in this emerging area.
Watch the short video below to learn more about our science engagement programme
Potentially reduced-risk products, such as vapour products, have reinvigorated the debate around tobacco harm reduction, and support for these products as a pragmatic public health policy is building. Developing the underpinning science for this field is too urgent and too important to be left to any one part of the scientific community, and it is increasingly clear that regulators, academia, industry and even consumers all have a role to play. That’s why we have tried to be open and transparent about the science that we do, and have sought to develop scientific collaborations with a wide range of groups.
A relatively new part of our approach in the last few years has been to actively encourage visitors to R&D. We were the first tobacco company to allow external visitors to tour our R&D facilities in Southampton, UK. Since 2011, when we first developed our science exhibition centre, we have welcomed over 3,500 visitors, all of whom wanted to learn more about the science behind our potentially reduced-risk products. The groups have been diverse, ranging from science writers, mainstream media, academics, scientific collaborators, as well as consumer advocates. Many of our visitors are journalists from the countries in which our potentially reduced-risk products are sold, as well as public health representatives.
Science is critical to our potentially reduced-risk products programme, and sharing our research is key to our credibility. We present our science at international conferences, ranging from large general conferences on chemistry and toxicology, to more niche events on nicotine and tobacco science, aerosol science and everything in between. All of the material we present externally is made available through the library on this website. "Connecting with other sectors of the scientific community, including regulators, by attending conferences is a key part of our commitment to openness and transparency," says Sarah Cooney, Head of Scientific Collaboration & Communication. "And the more we engage, the better our science becomes – it’s a virtuous circle."
Our science website was another industry first when it was launched in 2008. We use this, along with Twitter (follow us @BAT_Sci), to share as much as possible about the non-competitive aspects of our research programme, and encourage debate and discussion.
In terms of publications in peer-reviewed journal articles, we are now strongly focused on the science to substantiate our new products as potentially reduced-risk products, and we have published a great deal of our research on Vype ePen and glo in the past couple of years. We always choose an open access option, so there are no restrictions on who can read our research, and links to all of these articles can be found in the library. "We publish as much of our research as we can, irrespective of the results, in international, peer-reviewed journals," says Cooney. "It is heartening that the vast majority of journal editors and editorial boards continue to believe that good science speaks for itself and should be judged objectively by the peer-review process. Most journals today have straightforward processes that ensure that potential conflicts of interest are clearly disclosed."
To ensure our science reaches a wide audience, we also issue scientific press releases on selected scientific manuscripts. There is great appetite for information about potentially reduced-risk products, and our press releases are often picked up by mainstream media outlets, who include them in their news feeds, whether online, TV, radio or print.
Recognising that achieving our aims in tobacco harm reduction can be accelerated through a united approach, we are also collaborating with other tobacco companies on areas of non-competitive science. A key example of this is our work on adverse outcome pathways (AOPs), mapping biological events that could lead to adverse effects. In collaboration with Philip Morris International, we have developed two AOPs demonstrating how oxidative stress, a toxic effect caused by cigarette smoke, can impact the respiratory and circulatory systems, resulting in disease. "We were delighted to receive an award from PETA International Science Consortium in recognition for our work on AOPs for smoking-related disease," says Marianna Gaça, Head of Pre-clinical Assessment.
To further the field of in vitro toxicology and promote the non-animal testing in this emerging area, we have also formed partnerships to help us more fully assess the impact the aerosols from our potentially reduced-risk products could have on lungs. Among these are a collaboration with the Institute for In Vitro Sciences (IIVS.org), and the use of 3D models of the human airway developed by biotech firm Epithelix. "Working with these partners allows us to be at the forefront of new methods and assays as they are introduced and also to assist with developing these methodologies," explains Gaça.
We spent several years supporting the American Chemical Society (ACS), and participating in ACS Corporation Associates. So we were thrilled when ACS agreed to publish excerpts of BAT’s 2015 Science & Technology Report in Chemical & Engineering News, their weekly member magazine that reaches 160,000 readers. We were told that the high editorial quality of our science reports was key to this decision, as well as both parties expecting this might generate robust debate. "It was the first time a commercial publisher published a scientific supplement from a tobacco company; and we hope this is a sign that the external environment is beginning to recognise that the tobacco industry is producing high-quality research in this emerging field," says Cooney. "Our aim is to stimulate and participate in the debate, which we feel is critical for this emerging field to develop. We want to be part of the discussions."
Also, Gaça was invited to guest edit a Special Issue of Applied In Vitro Toxicology focusing on in vitro testing approaches for potentially reduced-risk products. The issue attracted 10 original research articles and a roundtable discussion, in which Chris Proctor, our Chief Scientific Officer, debated the issues with leading figures from academia, public health, and in vitro advocates.
Gradually building BAT R&D as the source of credible scientific stories through our media relations work has led to BAT’s science being featured in four well-balanced, high-profile TV documentaries: BBC Horizon, which brought celebrity presenter Michael Mosley to R&D; CBC Fifth Estate; ABC 60 Minutes; and BBC The One Show. We have also been invited to contribute regular science columns to consumer magazines.
"Scientific engagement is vital now more than ever. The science behind this next generation of tobacco and nicotine products is what will guide regulation and opinion; communication is key to dispelling false assumptions and misconceptions," says Cooney. "It is our mission to ensure that people are as well informed as possible about BAT's research." Download a copy of our award-winning Science & Technology Report 2017/18 (pdf 99Mb).