Transforming Tobacco is a potential win for adult smokers who wouldn’t otherwise quit, if they get access and switch completely to potentially reduced-risk products. It’s also a potential win for governments, regulators and public health authorities to the extent there is less smoking-related disease and premature death in the future than currently projected. And it’s a win for the company and its shareholders because it will allow British American Tobacco to continue to grow sustainably into the future.
I think our strategy is unique in the industry. It’s unique because we recognise that the tobacco and nicotine product sector will fragment like every other consumer goods category has done. So, we’ve gone from an era where one product satisfied most consumers, the cigarette, to an era where consumers have more choice. That’s why we focus on a variety of categories rather than singling out one or two.
We have an exciting product portfolio across all the categories – we have very strong offerings in tobacco heating products (THPs), vaping, hybrid and modern oral products. We have achieved a great deal but we’re not complacent, as there’s plenty more to be done.
We’re not hedging to find out which category will be strongest. I think every category, and maybe other categories that are yet to be conceived, will be equally relevant to consumers who are demanding more and more choice. So, if we’re going to win and we’re truly going to transform tobacco, and the entire sector, we must have a leading position in all of the potentially reduced risk product categories. That’s what makes us unique and I think that is what will make us the clear winner in the industry.
Product safety goes hand in hand with sound science. Consumers need to know that when they use a product they are not going to be harmed by a battery malfunction or an explosion. They need to know that whatever they are inhaling from a vaping product doesn’t have undue levels of toxic chemicals or heavy metals in it because we have designed, developed and manufactured products to a high standard.
I’m asking people to judge us fairly on our actions. I think that science has a fundamentally important role in building trust in our products and in this company. We put our science through peer review all the time and if people have doubts about the science, we encourage them to challenge us on it and to do what good scientists do – repeat it. The science that can be repeated is the science that survives and is believed.
We have become real experts in areas such as consumer electronics. In the space of a few years, we’ve gained an awful lot of knowledge, and that has been hard won. It has been enhanced by recruiting brilliant people from the tech world.
Another discipline that is new to us is technology scouting. Now, a fundamental part of our R&D programme is to identify and acquire promising technologies that are in their infancy but we think could have a powerful role in making better products for smokers. In fact, our Vype product iSwitch was identified years ago through our technology scouting team. Corporate venture capital technology funding is something else we had never done before our transformation and now it is an integral part of the success of our R&D.
For us, harm reduction is both transformative and pragmatic. It’s transformative because it has the potential to reduce projected tobacco-related disease over the course of this century. It’s pragmatic in that it doesn’t take a ‘quit or die’ approach. It recognises, based on sound science, that nicotine (although it can cause dependence and is not risk-free) is not the cause of smoking-related disease and premature death – rather, the products of combustion are the overwhelming cause. People may always use nicotine and tobacco, but it’s moving away from combustion to non-combustion that is a very pragmatic solution to the challenge that cigarette smoking presents to public health.
We advocate regulations that set high standards for consumer safety, facilitate those in authority to talk to smokers based on sound science, and allow consumers to use potentially reduced risk products more freely than cigarettes.
We are open and transparent about our science, and we publish in peer-reviewed journals. We also open our doors to visitors who want to understand our R&D work. Our approach is about providing transparency to consumers and regulators about both our company and our products.
I’ve met people who haven’t heard of us and I’d say, 9 times out of 10, they are pleasantly surprised and amazed by what we’re doing here. This is a vibrant, consumer-centric, technology-driven organisation. It’s very diverse and we have several generations all working together, which is a brilliant combination. I think people feel they’re not just working for a great company but that they are part of history. They are helping to provide more choice to millions of cigarette smokers around the world.
We’ve come a long way and I feel both proud and privileged to be the Director of Scientific Research at this moment in our company’s history.