A future without cigarettes is within reach in less than one generation in some countries, provided there is the right support from civil society and governments, incoming Philip Morris South Africa MD Branislav Bibic says.
For over a decade, Philip Morris International (PMI), has been leading the transformation of the tobacco industry to move adults who would otherwise continue smoking, away from cigarettes, and other combustible tobacco products, to change to scientifically substantiated smoke-free alternatives.
Bibic explains: “According to leading public health experts, the harmful chemicals present in smoke which is produced when burning tobacco are the primary cause of smoking-disease, and not nicotine as many people believe.”
“Smoke-free products, such as heated tobacco products (HTPs), e-cigarettes and other innovations, don’t burn tobacco and can thereby significantly reduce the formation of harmful chemicals and the body’s exposure to these toxicants compared to cigarette smoke.”
“Let’s be clear, these products are not risk-free and contain nicotine which is addictive and while the best choice any smoker can make is to quit tobacco and nicotine altogether, many don’t,” Bibic adds. “Changing to scientifically substantiated smoke-free products is a better choice than continued smoking and can represent a public health opportunity to accelerate the decline in smoking prevalence and smoking-related population harm.”
“My ambition is that all South African adults who would otherwise continue smoking cigarettes switch to scientifically substantiated smoke-free products. But can we achieve this only through our own efforts in a generation?” he asks.
“We are aware that a change of this pace is not solely reliant on our organisation,” he continues. “Dialogue is key. Unless there is a constructive conversation among all parties including government and civil society on the evidence that supports the vision of a smoke-free South Africa and on how to improve public health, things will not move at pace.”
He explains that regulating smoke-free products differently to combustible cigarettes is a prerequisite to ending cigarette sales in South Africa as soon as possible.
A Frost and Sullivan whitepaper titled ‘Tobacco Harm Reduction and Novel Nicotine and Tobacco Products, Evidence from the Japanese Market’ supports this view. The study found that the regulatory framework in that country for HTPs is increasingly diverging from the framework governing conventional cigarettes in terms of taxation, health warnings, and restrictions on use.
A key trend has emerged, namely that total cigarette sales in Japan dropped by 34% between 2015 and 2019. According to the study, it is likely that the introduction of HTPs in Japan caused a significant decline in cigarette sales, well above the previous rate of decline.
“The Japanese government regulates HTPs differently from combustible cigarettes, however in South Africa, the current regulatory framework treats HTPs and combustible products equally, despite the scientific evidence that they are fundamentally different,” he adds. “This maintains the smoking status quo by making it difficult for adults who would otherwise continue smoking to get accurate information on and thus understand why scientifically substantiated smoke-free products are less harmful than cigarettes.”
“Reviewing the scientific evidence and revising policies accordingly will aid tremendously in accelerating a smoke-free future,” Bibic concludes.