Embrace safer alternatives to tobacco smoking, experts urge smokers

25 OCTOBER 2021

Amarachi Okeh

Experts from Philip Morris International have urged smokers to embrace safer alternatives to tobacco smoking.

According to the experts, smokers who are unable to quit smoking should consider heated tobacco products that do not involve the burning of tobacco.

The experts made the call at a media briefing organised by Philip Morris International and held at Radisson Blu, Ikeja, Lagos on Saturday.

Speaking at the media briefing, the head of Scientific Engagement, the Middle East and Africa region, Philip Morris International, Ignacho Gonzalez, who is a medical researcher, stated that the tobacco company is committed to encouraging safer alternatives to tobacco smoking.

The company, Gonzalez said, is poised to introduce smoke-free products that would be be better alternatives for smokers who have been unable to quit smoking despite their best efforts.

The media briefing had in attendance Director External Affairs sub-Saharan Africa PMI, Haruna Ly, Director External Affairs PMI, Nigeria, Mojisola Akpata, Manager of Communications of the region, PMI, Ms. Cecil, CEO Almack Media, Aliu Akoshile and Executive Chairman of All Africa Global Media, Amadou Mahtar Ba.

Gonzalez, speaking virtually at the event noted that wh quitting smoking still remains the best choice for health. He, however, stressed that the PMI tobacco-heated products are better alternatives for people who are unable to quit smoking. 

“Our ambition and intent are to convince smokers who intend to continue smoking to switch to smoke-free products as soon as possible.

“We want to move away from cigarettes as soon as possible. We want cigarettes to be obsolete, something of the past and we are doing everything that we can to get to the day where there are no more cigarettes as soon as possible.”

According to the World Health Organisation, there are one billion smokers in the world.

Gonzalez noted that despite efforts by governments and regulators to reduce the number of smokers by advocating the prevention and cessation of smoking cigarettes, the numbers still remain.

According to Gonzalez, switching to heated tobacco products eliminates the combustion which tobacco passes through that causes danger in the health of smokers.

He stated that discussions around tobacco should be steered towards harm reduction instead.

“The government and regulators have tried to reduce the number of smokers by prevention and cessation. These measures have had success but still, there are one billion smokers out there so the question is what else can we do.

“This is where the area of tobacco harm reduction as a third complementary pillar to the other two comes to play,” he said.

Gonzalez noted that though switching to heated tobacco products does not completely eliminate the risks involved in smoking, they significantly reduce it.

This, he said, is backed by evidence from 10 clinical studies conducted by PMI in different parts of the world.

“When you look at these alternatives under the umbrella of harm reduction, if we want to achieve harm reduction, we need to think.

“On one hand we need products that are less harmful than continuing to smoke and this needs to be demonstrated by the scientific side and at the same time we need products that are accepted by smokers so that they can switch because at the end of the day if you have a product that has great risk reduction but nobody uses it, you will not achieve harm reduction.”

He added that in heated tobacco products, nicotine, a reason why many smokers still smoke, is present.

He quashed the notion that nicotine is the primary cause of diseases from smoking. 

He posited that while nicotine is not risk-free, it is not the primary cause of diseases in smokers.

“The primary cause of disease in a cigarette is actually the toxicants that are present in the smoke of a cigarette, the majority of which are generated when the tobacco burns,” he said.

Also speaking, the Director, External Affairs at PMI, Nigeria, Mojisola Akpata called on the government to encourage safer alternatives to smoking.

Akpata urged the Nigerian government to practice differentiated regulation in the tobacco industry and also provide education to smokers.

The director of external affairs stated that the focus of the discussion on tobacco harm should now be focused on harm reduction instead of only prevention and cessation.

She urged that regulators consider the third option supported by the WHO which is harm reduction.

PMI, Akpata said, is leading the innovation to healthier alternatives to cigarette smoking by creating a range of alternatives such as e-cigarettes and other products that do not involve the burning of tobacco.

According to Akpata, smoke is the primary cause of smoking-related diseases hence by eliminating burning, the levels of harmful chemicals generated can be significantly reduced.

The company, Akpata said, does not want non-smokers to begin smoking, rather they are investing in reducing the risks caused by the combustion of tobacco to the health of smokers who cannot quit.

“Harm reduction is what has led to all the research and development that we have had in this space moving from cigarettes to alternatives that are safer.”

She stated that the discussion on moving to tobacco harm reduction makes sense because “it is scientifically substantiated that smokers who switch extend their life span.”

“It’s good for public health. She added that since it applies in other industries the same thing should apply to tobacco companies.

“We are trying to extend our time here on earth and for us to do that, it requires that the regulatory space allows for you to have harm reduction information available to legal age smokers.

“A lot of countries are taking on the harm reduction mantra. It works for public health experts to say, you know what? We encourage e-cigarette as an option because it is a safer alternative. Although not totally safe, it is a reduced risk alternative to burning tobacco and that is the conversation that we are hoping that Africa and Nigeria will have soon.

“However, you need to understand what the regulatory tools are to regulate the tobacco space and in regulating the tobacco space we are looking at the principles.

“We believe that nicotine and tobacco should be regulated, youths and non-smokers should not use tobacco products.

“We should have the options of choosing and you can only have that if you have the awareness and if there are regulations in place. Smokers should have access to information that would allow them to make informed decisions.

“Regulations need to achieve a balance. Maximize the potential of adults to switch to a better alternative.”

“While these tobacco heated products are yet to hit the Nigerian market, these are widely accepted even by regulatory bodies in Europe, America, and Asia while South Africa is the only Africa where heated tobacco products are available at the moment,” Akpata, said.


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