A man lights up his cigarette at a roadside kiosk in Mumbai, India. Reuters
Jacek Olczak, IANS
As Chief Operating Officer at Philip Morris International (PMI), it is my job to help realize our transformation. Today, this means unsmoking the world. In fact, this is something we at PMI have been actively engaged in for more than 20 years. Yes, that’s right. It has been nearly two decades since we began researching, developing and scientifically assessing smoke-free products as part of our commitment to creating a smoke-free future, which is now becoming a reality. However, for us to unsmoke the world, it is crucial to unsmoke India, which is home to over 100 million adult smokers.
Since the debut of our main smoke-free product in Japan and Italy in 2014, we have been able to make these less harmful smoke-free alternatives available in 45 additional markets. More than 7.3 million adults worldwide have switched to our smoke-free alternatives (as of March 31, 2019).
In India, too, the scientific community, NGOs and the government have an opportunity to initiate a scientific and rational debate on the potential public health benefit that science-based smoke-free alternatives can bring for smokers who would otherwise continue smoking and injure public health. Countries like the US, the UK and New Zealand among others have taken positive steps in this direction.
The Indian regulatory authorities can be among this select number of pioneering governments by defining a regulatory framework whereby a variety of scientifically substantiated smoke-free alternatives can be offered to adult smokers, within clear commercialisation guidelines and marketing/communication requirements. This is the best way to maximise the public health potential of innovative products, while minimising unintended use, such as by minors and non-smokers.
This approach presents a huge opportunity to address the problem of cigarette smoking in India. There is a growing body of science that points to these smoke-free products being significantly less harmful than continued smoking, and we hope that the Indian government will look at the evidence and work towards creating an appropriate regulatory framework for these smoke-free products.
All of this may surprise you if your perception is that PMI is strictly a cigarette company. But the truth is, not only does this make good business sense for us, it is the right thing to do. Nine out of 10 adult smokers continue smoking each year, so regardless of your opinion of our industry, there is one thing on which we should all agree: These individuals deserve better options.
It has taken hundreds of scientists, thousands of tests and billions of dollars to develop products without cigarette smoke: Smoke-free products that don’t burn tobacco, products that adult smokers can switch to completely and not return to cigarettes.
These smoke-free products contain nicotine and are not risk free. However, the science supports their potential to be a better choice than continued smoking. We share our science and data openly with the scientific and medical communities, as well as with governments throughout the world. We look forward to having the same dialogue in India, and to be able to present our science openly and transparently to the scientific community here as well as to the Indian government.
The best choice any adult smoker can make is to quit altogether. But those who don’t quit deserve access to these alternative products. They also deserve current information in order to make their own choices.
By encouraging the men and women who don’t quit to completely adopt smoke-free alternatives, we can eventually leave cigarettes behind.
That’s why today we believe it’s time to evolve World No Tobacco Day into World No Smoking Day. It’s time to unsmoke the world and to unsmoke India — starting by initiating this dialogue in India and for the Indian government to play a leadership role in ensuring that harm reduction for adult smokers who would otherwise continue smoking becomes the third significant pillar in India’s tobacco control strategy together with abstinence and cessation. The result will be a benefit to overall public health.
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