Back in 2016, PMI made headlines when Andre Calantzopoulos, the company’s CEO said that he would like “to work with governments towards the “phase-out” of conventional cigarettes”. Additionally Peter Nixon, the Managing Director for UK and Ireland had said, “We want to move towards a smoke-free future and a lot of that is incentivising people to move across from cigarettes to something that is less harmful.”
Following this, PMI had made yet another bold announcement saying that it would allocate $1 billion to set up the infamous Smoke-Free Foundation, an initiative that has been met with nothing but suspicion and skepticism, and has been a much debated hot topic of controversy amidst anti-tobacco circles.
The tobacco company is clearly doing its utmost to gain credibility in its efforts to combat smoking. During the 2018 Concordia Annual Summit, which took place on the 24th and 25th September in New York, Calantzopoulos once again spoke of the company’s intentions in switching to selling safer alternatives, and highlighted the importance of dialogue in order to achieve this goal.
“I’m the Chief Executive Officer of a tobacco company. I’m here today because, as global leaders come together in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, this is the time and place to discuss today’s problems and their potential solutions.
“Smoking tobacco is a behavioral risk factor for Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs). According to the WHO, 40 million people die each year from NCDs. And tobacco smoking accounts for 7.2 million of those deaths. Public health experts project that the global burden of smoking-related disease will continue to increase in the future.
“This week is about different sectors coming together to take bold action for global progress.That’s why PMI is here. We are asking global leaders to enter into an honest, transparent dialogue with us. We are radically transforming our company to deliver a future without cigarettes. We have a duty to help create a better world for the more than 1 billion men and women who smoke today. We are committed to these people—and to the people who care about them. Their access to better choices means a better life for them and a better future for the sustainability of our planet, our economies and our communities.
“Our vision for a smoke-free future, which means a future without cigarettes, is one that many share. This is why PMI is pioneering in the smoke-free category — to deliver a world without cigarettes. Our ambition is to convince all adult smokers who might otherwise continue smoking cigarettes to switch to smoke-free products, which are a much better alternative for them.
“Yes, in an ideal world, all smokers should quit tobacco and nicotine consumption altogether. We fully agree with this. This is the lowest-risk scenario compared with cigarette smoking. But we don’t live in a world where this can or will happen automatically—or anytime soon.
“Even with increasing prevention and cessation efforts, there are still more than 1 billion people who currently smoke cigarettes. And according to the WHO, there will still be more than a billion people who choose to smoke in 2025.
“These people are your constituents, your customers, and perhaps, your friends and family. This is reality. It must be met with an ambitious effort to offer these people help by making less harmful products available: allowing them to make better and informed choices.
“We know smoking tobacco causes disease. We also know that while not risk free, tobacco and nicotine are not the primary cause of smoking-related NCDs. In fact, the primary cause is the act of burning tobacco and inhaling the smoke.
“Science, innovation and technology have allowed the development of a new category of products that don’t involve combustion or smoke. Their aerosol contains a small fraction of the toxicants that appear in cigarette smoke. You may know these alternatives as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products.
“We spent years to develop and scientifically assess the risk reduction potential of such products compared with cigarette smoking. Every single pre-clinical and clinical study we’ve conducted confirm their potential to have a significant, positive impact on public health.
“And there’s a growing body of independent studies, including from government laboratories, that points towards the same conclusions.
“Of course, there are skeptics who point to the past and express doubts about our sincerity and our science. I can’t change the past. My focus is on changing the future. Can you imagine the criticism I would face if years from now, it was discovered that we had better options for people that smoke but left them in the laboratory?
“There’s growing recognition, in several countries like the U.K. and the U.S., that innovative smoke-free alternatives to cigarettes are likely to be less harmful than continued smoking. These countries view them as an important tool to complement public health policies focused on prevention and cessation.
“To be clear, I’m not saying that smoke-free products are safe or a perfect solution. I am saying that switching to scientifically substantiated alternatives is a better choice than continuing to smoke. Many smokers around the world recognize that these innovations work for them.Adoption rates point to a promising future.
“There is every reason to be optimistic that these alternatives are a viable and additional path to help reduce the harm caused by smoking — a path that complements regulatory restrictions on cigarettes.
“I’m aware of the criticisms around our motivations. But I’m asking you to look at the science and listen to the voices of men and women who smoke. We’ve invested billions of dollars in research, development, and scientific assessment of smoke-free products. The results are published and available for review. In just three years, we’ve made these products available to adult smokers in 40 countries.
“Nearly 6 million men and women have already stopped smoking and switched to our heated tobacco product.
“Now we need to come together and discuss what society can and should do next. In my view we need to evaluate not whether the world’s billion smokers should have access to better alternatives to cigarettes, but how. How can we implement the right regulatory framework to maximize switching to better products while minimizing any unintended public health consequences?
“Let me be clear. The best choice is never to start using a tobacco or nicotine product at all. And PMI fully supports policies to prevent young people from initiating the use of any nicotine-containing product.
“We’re committed to the Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Clearly, the greatest contribution we can make to society is to replace cigarettes with less harmful alternatives.
“True change and development requires partnerships—this is one of the UN’s stated goals.Just as other sectors have brought their best ideas for solutions and innovations, so have we. We’ve listened to the call from the UN and global leaders to leverage technology in order to drive progress.In every other sector, when better options emerge, everyone works together to make them available as quickly as possible.
“However in my sector, society is both polarized and paralyzed. We urgently need an open dialogue. We are ready and willing to talk with people across all sectors and of all points of view, including those who disagree with us. My ask is for everyone here today to carefully consider the role that smoke-free alternatives can play in achieving global health goals.
“Today, better options are available for men and women who smoke. For these billion people, it’s our responsibility to ensure this moment of transformation does not pass them by.
“We know we can’t achieve this alone. We need the voices of you and people like you, to be part of the conversation about how we can realize the promise of better options for people who smoke.”