Q&A with Dr David O'Reilly: Tobacco Harm Reduction is progressive, pragmatic, and achievable

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Q&A with Dr David O'Reilly: Tobacco Harm Reduction is progressive, pragmatic, and achievable
News release

Tobacco Harm Reduction (THR) is a public health strategy that aims to minimise the negative health impact of smoking by encouraging smokers, who would otherwise continue to smoke, to switch completely to a reduced-risk* alternative product.  An alternative that contains nicotine but doesn’t involve the harmful burning of tobacco, known as combustion, that causes most of the harm associated with conventional cigarettes.

Here, Dr David O’Reilly explains why THR is a progressive, pragmatic, and achievable way to reduce the harm and health-burden caused by cigarettes.

17 June 2022

What is Tobacco Harm Reduction and why is it so important?

“The concept of harm reduction acknowledges that most of us engage in everyday acts – such as driving a car – that pose a certain level of risk and seeks strategies – like using your seat belt – that minimise that risk. It has been around for many years and delivered many successes.

Tobacco Harm Reduction works along the same lines. It is a public health strategy that recognises the serious health impact of smoking and seeks to minimise it. 

It does this by encouraging smokers to quit and, for those smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke, encourages them to switch to an alternative reduced-risk* product. These products contain nicotine but don’t involve the harmful burning of tobacco which creates the thousands of harmful toxicants associated with smoking-related disease.  

In a world where over 1 billion people continue to smoke cigarettes, despite knowing the serious health risks, providing alternatives like vapour products or nicotine pouches may be enough to encourage many of these smokers to switch completely.  Our role at BAT is to develop products that give adult smokers enjoyable less risky* alternative products that provide the satisfaction that smokers want, without the combustion that causes most of the harm. Products that are high-quality and extensively tested.”

How does BAT support Tobacco Harm Reduction?

“We’ve been on a journey for many years now to find a way to reduce the health impact of our business. We’re driving this in a number of ways. Firstly, our business needs to be built on outstanding products that adult smokers, who would otherwise continue to smoke, want to use and find satisfying.

Secondly, the development of our reduced-risk portfolio* is underpinned by world-class science. Today, we offer a full range – our unique multicategory approach - of reduced-risk* products such as vapour, tobacco heating products (THP) and oral nicotine pouches in over 57 markets around the world. This is made possible by the emphasis we put on science and innovation at BAT.

We are committed to creating a different future for adult smokers, society, and our business. We are doing this by providing adult smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke with diverse and less risky* ways of consuming nicotine.

We know this is working, as we now have 19.4 million consumers of non-combustible brands, an increase of nearly 5 million in 2021.  This is really encouraging, but we want to do more and further accelerate this progress.”

What is the biggest barrier to Tobacco Harm Reduction?

“One of the biggest barriers is ensuring smokers understand that products such as e-cigarettes and THPs are less risky* than smoking – vaping is up to 95% less risky, according to public health bodies.  However, many pieces of research show that people incorrectly think they are as harmful as cigarettes. 

In particular, there needs to be greater understanding of what nicotine is, and what it is not. Nicotine by itself isn’t a carcinogen, meaning it doesn’t cause cancer. It’s the act of burning tobacco and inhaling smoke that is the widely recognised cause of the health risks linked to smoking. Let’s be clear - whilst nicotine is addictive and not risk free, it has been used for decades in licensed medicinal products, which are available without a prescription in many major countries.

Providing clear and easy-to-understand information for adult smokers must be part of Tobacco Harm Reduction, as it is important that smokers have accurate information that enables them to make informed choices. This way we increase the opportunity to reduce the health risks caused by smoking for individuals and society.”

Why is scientific evidence so important?

“All good public health policies should be based on scientific evidence. Evidence that informs and allows governments, regulators, and consumers to assess and understand how a product or an approach might be used to benefit society. 

BAT is developing innovative products underpinned by robust, science-based evidence that demonstrate their reduced risk* potential compared to cigarettes. We invest significant amounts in research, with a team of more than 1,500 R&D specialists working on generating new data and products. We then publish these data, whether the results are positive or negative, as we believe this sharing is fundamental to the scientific progress and to understanding.”

How have alternative nicotine products evolved, and what does the future look like?

“I believe the future for nicotine will not rely on any individual product, but on different products to meet different consumer preferences. We know the market for alternative nicotine products is fragmented, and not every adult consumer wants the same thing.

The first e-cigarette, introduced in 2003, was a very basic device. Today at BAT, we not only offer a range of vaping products, but we also offer tobacco heating products and oral nicotine pouches. We believe that all of them are reduced risk* alternatives compared to continuing smoking.

I strongly believe that Tobacco Harm Reduction is progressive, pragmatic, and achievable and must be here to stay.  It is already supporting and encouraging smokers to switch, which should drive further product innovation, leading to greater consumer satisfaction to ultimately result in even more people switching.  This can only be a good thing for public health and the delivery of A Better Tomorrow™.”

Read BAT’s latest Science & Innovation Report to discover more about the company’s approach to Tobacco Harm Reduction.

* Based on the weight of evidence and assuming a complete switch from cigarette smoking. These products are not risk free and are addictive.
† Our products as sold in the U.S., including Vuse, Velo, Grizzly, Kodiak, and Camel Snus, are subject to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation and no reduced-risk claims will be made as to these products without FDA clearance.
IUK House of Commons Science & Technology Committee. Seventh Report of Session July 2017


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