Calls on regulators internationally to follow the example of the U.K. and lessen the impact of income inequality on access to better alternatives than continued smoking
Philip Morris International Inc. (PMI) (NYSE: PM) announced its support of the U.K. government’s plan to simplify the pathway to license electronic cigarettes and other inhaled nicotine-containing products (NCPs) as medicines in England. The U.K. already has one of Europe’s lowest smoking rates, supported by a high rate of smokers who have switched to better alternatives. This proposal makes the U.K. the first country in the world to encourage the medical licensing of e-cigarettes via prescription as a route to further lower smoking rates, particularly among low-income smokers.
Sajid Javid, Health and Social Care Secretary, announced that this will “tackle the stark disparities in smoking rates across the country, helping people stop smoking wherever they live and whatever their background.” The announcement notes that “e-cigarettes contain nicotine and are not risk-free, but expert reviews from the U.K. and U.S. have been clear that the regulated e-cigarettes are less harmful than smoking.” Importantly, this measure is not taken in isolation but complements existing policies to encourage switching from cigarettes to e-cigarettes as a way to accelerate the transition to a smoke-free U.K. The U.K. government recognizes the role of e-cigarettes supporting those trying to quit, with 27.2% of smokers using them compared with 18.2% using nicotine replacement therapy products.
Gregoire Verdeaux, Senior Vice President, External Affairs at Philip Morris International commented:
“The U.K. is a global leader in medicine, science and public health. Expert scientific reviews in the U.K. and U.S. are clear that smoke-free alternatives—such as e-cigarettes—offer adults who would otherwise continue to smoke cigarettes a better alternative. We welcome the U.K. government’s continued recognition that regulated e-cigarettes and other inhaled nicotine-containing products, while not risk-free, are less harmful than smoking and can significantly benefit public health.
“The U.K. government’s progressive approach to tobacco harm reduction has already contributed to a high number of smokers using better alternatives like e-cigarettes to move away from cigarettes, and also one of Europe’s lowest smoking rates. This newly simplified, regulated prescription pathway brings an additional opportunity to help those in the poorer areas of England—where smoking prevalence is disproportionately high—abandon cigarettes.
“The U.K. government also recognizes the importance of differentiated taxation of non-prescription smoke-free products, incentivizing adult smokers who don’t quit tobacco and nicotine altogether to switch to less harmful alternatives by taxing the most harmful products—cigarettes—the most, and less harmful non-combustible alternatives, the least.
“Income inequality affects smoking rates across the globe—smokers in lower income households are less likely to have access to these smoke-free alternatives. As representatives from health ministries across the globe are shortly set to gather for an international meeting on tobacco control, we hope that other governments and regulators recognize the additional actions that the U.K. government is taking to offer better alternatives to adults who would otherwise continue to smoke cigarettes.”
PMI agrees that smoke-free products—under clear regulations and thorough scientific assessments—while not risk-free, are less harmful than continued smoking and can significantly benefit the public health. Regulators can decisively accelerate the achievement of a future without cigarettes through risk-proportionate regulations for all nicotine-containing consumer products. A growing number of countries—including the US, New Zealand, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Bulgaria—have recognized this approach and implemented differentiated regulation for noncombustible alternatives. Many others are debating changes to their regulation. All men and women who would otherwise continue to smoke cigarettes, regardless of their income level and where they live, should have access to and accurate information about products that are a better alternative.
Whilst PMI does not believe that smoke-free products should be sold exclusively in pharmacies, because access through a wide range of regulated channels is critical to adoption, the company welcomes a simplified, medicinal route implemented in addition to other comprehensive regulatory and supply measures to accelerate adoption of smoke-free products. The company further believes that a smoke-free future is attainable, and that this future can be achieved more rapidly if all stakeholders work collaboratively. Together with governments and civil society, the opportunity to rid the world of combustible cigarettes can be maximized through a consensus that smoke-free alternatives, when subject to proper government oversight and regulation, are part of a sound tobacco harm reduction policy.