Some tobacco harm reduction experts believe that collaboration with the tobacco industry can redirect resources for the greater good, and that despite any potential hidden agendas of the industry, this approach may ultimately benefit everyone.
Earlier this month, Dr. Adriana Blanco Marquizo, the Head of the Secretariat of the WHO FCTC, initiated the COP10 conference by expressing apprehension regarding the increasing accessibility of innovative nicotine and tobacco products, particularly among the youth. She cautioned against the tobacco industry’s promotion of these products as alternatives to authentic tobacco control measures, seemingly complelely oblivious to the fact that the majority of these products are not produced by the tobacco industry at all.

Furthermore, Marquizo emphasized the need for vigilance against the persistent global interference of the “tobacco industry”, aiming to undermine COP10, preceding conferences and therefore global smoking cessation efforts. Once again this comment ignored an important fact: the opposition she labeled as “interference” actually involves numerous experts in smoking cessation who contrary to disrupting smoking cessation efforts, are advocating for scientifically proven methods which could facilitate the smoking cessation journeys of millions.

This discourse has led to multiple headlines worldwide, all warning against the interference of the tobacco industry. Moreover, a recent study publiched in BMJ highlighted the importance of denormalising the presence and participation of the tobacco industry at scientific events.

This study scrutinized events such as conferences, symposia, and workshops, spanning the period from April 2012 to September 2021 for the involvement of British American Tobacco (BAT) and Philip Morris International (PMI). These events were predominantly held in high-income countries in Europe and North America. The diverse range of fields covered included toxicology (28.1%), medicine (11.7%), biology (11.3%), chemistry (10.8%), aerosol science (8.5%), dentistry (4.2%), pharmaceutical science (3.8%), and computing (3.8%).

The study discovered that 356 posters from BAT and PMI were linked to 118 events (55.4%), as well as 77 presentations from 65 events (30.5%). This led to the conclusion that efforts should be directed toward creating awareness and discouraging the legitimacy of tobacco companies within scientific circles, as well as scrutinizing the industry’s involvement in scientific forums to prevent any potential manipulation or misuse of science.

The vaping industry is definetely not the tobacco industry

Ironically, the vaping industry, which as aforementioned many assume is just a new branch of the tobacco one, tends to be equally against the involvement of the tobacco industry. What many seem to not realize, is that in most cases vape businesses were set up by current or former smokers passionate about finding a nicotine substitute in order to help them and others quit deadly cigarettes. To this effect, they tend to view the tobacco industry as their arch nemesis.

Meanwhile, many experts in the fields of public health and tobacco harm reduction view things differently. When in 2017, prominent anti-smoking advocate Derek Yach joined the infamous Smoke-Free Foundation which was funded by PMI, numerous anti-smoking experts criticized the move, considering the foundation a potential marketing tactic to enhance the visibility and success of Philip Morris’ heated tobacco product, iQOS.

In response, Yach had assured his peers that this decision did not signify a shift in allegiance and that it was driven by opportunity, not trust. “I am not naïve enough to believe that Philip Morris is doing this because of the warm fuzzy feeling that they want to lower the death rates. No. What they want to do is have a product that is less risky and that makes them profits. That is the beginning and end of it,” he said at the time.

To include or not include

While many THR experts agree with Yach, others believe that the tobacco industry needs to be more transparent before it can be trusted. “I think any commercial conflict will quite reasonably cause people to be less certain in the scientific merits of the findings. Making data publicly available and analyses reproducible go a long ways to address these concerns,” Health Economist and Associate Professor at Georgia State University, Dr. Michael Pesko, told Vaping Post earlier this year.

Naturally such alliances remain controversial, and that’s very reasonable. Some tobacco harm reduction experts believe that collaboration with the industry can redirect resources for the greater good, and that despite any potential hidden agendas of the industry, this approach may ultimately benefit everyone. Others argue that partnering with an industry selling harmful products should be avoided on principle.

Altria fruit-flavoured NJOY

Whether motivated by a genuine shift towards conscientious practices or an attempt to improve their tarnished image for business survival, major tobacco manufacturers are now emphasizing sustainability and the goal of becoming smoke-free. Only this week it was reported that Altria Group Inc. is finalizing submissions to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for NJOY vape products featuring blueberry and watermelon flavours.

Altria emphasized it plans to employ Bluetooth technology to prevent underage use, although specific details have not been disclosed. Altria CEO Billy Gifford stated that the company has demonstrated the effectiveness of age-gating restrictions in preventing underage access in nearly all cases.

Should Big Tobacco be Used for its Resources or Firmly Considered The Villain?

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