Tobacco majors spend $9.6bn on R&D of risk-free smoking options since 2008

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DUBAI: British American Tobacco and Philip Morris International invested $9.6 billion in the research and development of risk-free alternatives to smoking.

BAT invested $589 million in R&D to develop innovative new category products last year, according to Dr. Hugo Tan, the company’s regional head of scientific engagement in the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East.

What matters is not just to believe what people say, but to be guided by the evidence. Not just consumers but also public health experts and regulators often equate nicotine with cigarettes.

Hugo Tan, BAT’s regional head of scientific engagement in the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.

Tan explained to Arab News that tobacco harm reduction is a strategy that recognizes the harmful effects of combustible cigarettes and encourages smokers to switch entirely to alternatives such as vaping and tobacco-heated products. 

“It has been widely accepted and adopted by many countries, including the US, UK, Germany, France and others,” Tan said.

Since 2008, PMI has invested more than $9 billion in the R&D of smoke-free products.

He added that the move is supported by its R&D center in Southampton and 1,500 specialists, who have contributed to publishing more than 130 peer-reviewed scientific studies on its new category products.

Also, among PMI’s professionals are over 930 scientists, engineers and technicians committed to building scientific assessment capabilities, such as preclinical systems toxicology, clinical and behavioral research, and post-market assessment, according to the company’s website. 

Myths about nicotine

Tan clarified many myths about nicotine and explained how it is essential to rely on evidence when making decisions. 

“What matters is not just to believe what people say, but to be guided by the evidence,” he continued.

Not just consumers but also public health experts like him and regulators often equate nicotine with cigarettes, Tan added.

Evidence has shown, however, that it is primarily the smoke from tobacco combustion and not nicotine that causes most of the health risks associated with cigarettes. Nicotine, he said, is only one of many chemicals found in cigarettes.

BAT has also completed a study, which is yet to be published, on a clinical trial on one of the new category products, Vuse. This study looks at both scenarios, the Vuse user and the cigarette user. 

“It will provide a snapshot of the differences in biomarkers of potential harm between Vuse consumers compared to cigarette smokers, and from there, we can see if one indicator differs from the other in terms of biomarkers,” he said.

Tan said that in the UK, there are major health regulators and medical associations that have contributed to tobacco harm reduction strategies. 

He cited the Public Health England report on e-cigarettes that said vaping was 95 percent safer than smoking combustible cigarettes.

Based on their clinical findings on the website, PMI also has found that using their tobacco heating system, such as IQOS, positively impacts smokers’ health.

Despite the clinical findings of PMI and BAT’s research, Dr. Karem Harb, general practitioner and medical director at Dubai-based Hortman Clinics, said there are not enough studies on electronic cigarettes or coil-heated tobacco products.

Smokers do admit they feel better on e-cigarettes. That is because they contain less or zero amounts of tar. On the other hand, many e-cigarette smokers have reported an increase in palpitations and anxiety.

Karem Harb, Medical director and general practitioner at Dubai-basedHortman Clinics.

In his opinion, the new trend in e-cigarettes or similar products is that they have a higher concentration of nicotine when compared to regular cigarettes.

“Smokers do admit they feel better on e-cigarettes and breathe better, as well as sleep better, etc. and that is because they contain less or zero amounts of tar,” Harb said. 

“On the other hand, many e-cigarette smokers have reported an increase in palpitations and anxiety, which could be directly related to the higher levels of nicotine compared to regular cigarettes,” Harb added. 

Ways to accelerate alternatives

Furthermore, BAT proposes five ways to accelerate THR, Tan said.

The company encourages data collection to better understand the potential impact of electronic nicotine delivery products in the region.

He said this approach would improve consumer choice, quality and trust in the products.

Developing an appropriate regulatory system would be the second step in which science-based relative risks are differentiated and used to guide policies such as taxation, Tan added.

He explained that another way to ensure products can adapt to changing consumer preferences is to allow them to innovate.

Communication is essential for regulators and consumers to make informed decisions and support transparent industry-academic research collaboration to eliminate biased research.

Responsible marketing freedom, he concluded, enables consumers to move from combustible to non-combustible products faster. He said that BAT is committed to helping and working with local regulators to implement THR strategies.

According to PMI’s website, the Food and Drug Administration has approved marketing modified risk versions of IQOS Platform 1 devices and consumables as modified risk tobacco products. 

PMI’s smoke-free products were available in 71 countries as of March 31, 2022.

It is stated on the website that the FDA found it appropriate to modify exposure orders for these products to promote public health. 

As Harb concluded, although many claim to have quit cigarettes and taken up what would seem to be a healthier substitute, there is still a lot to learn about the new industry trends and the new age-group populations adopting the habit. “No smoking is always the better alternative,” he said.

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