Six of the 15 companies evaluated by the index have made some form of public commitment to tobacco harm reduction. However, such commitments are often unclear as to the future role of high-risk products.
Swedish Match AB (Swedish Match) claims its vision is “a world without cigarettes.” It initiated this position in 2014, having divested its cigarette business to Austria Tabak in 1999. It states: “The company is committed to displacing cigarettes by continuing to develop and commercialize alternative and dramatically safer sources of nicotine – which will improve public health.” It is the only company that has targeted removing cigarettes from markets in the immediate term.
Philip Morris International Inc (PMI) and British American Tobacco Plc (BAT) have both made commitments that target reducing the share of sales of high-risk products in their portfolios by increasing consumer demand for reduced-risk alternatives. PMI claims that its underlying objective is to make cigarettes obsolete, stating: “PMI will be far more than a cigarette company. We want to change society and deliver a better, smoke-free future. To make our vision a reality we are transforming and staking our entire future on a line of smoke-free products.” However, the company clearly states that it will not exit the cigarette market: “as long as significant legitimate demand for combustible tobacco exists, PMI will continue to sell such products responsibly and seek to maintain our leadership position internationally.” The reason given is that although selling its cigarette business would make the company smoke-free more quickly, it would simply shift the demand and problem elsewhere.
It is necessary for commitments to be more clearly linked to the goal of actively phasing-out high-risk products, in order to sharply reduce the death and disease they cause.
BAT states that its ambition is: “to increasingly transition our revenues from cigarettes to non-combustible products over time.” However, it has not advocated for the end of cigarettes. The company says that for the foreseeable future, it will continue to sell traditional products, and that revenue from these sales will be used to fund the further development of its reduced-risk product portfolio.
Imperial Brands Plc (Imperial) and Japan Tobacco Inc (JTI) position their reduced-risk products as part of a wider portfolio to provide “choice” for smokers, but without any specific commitment to reduce or displace high-risk product sales. Imperial states: “Our focus on science and research and development underpins our commitment to create something better for the world’s smokers. We want smokers to transition to potentially less harmful alternatives to cigarettes and have developed a portfolio of Next Generation Products (NGP) that have the potential to reduce smoking-related disease.” JTI similarly emphasizes a focus on consumer choice, stating: “We believe products that do not involve combustion and do not produce tobacco smoke are products with the potential to reduce the risks associated with smoking. We are committed to developing and bringing to market Reduced-Risk Products that meet consumer expectations.”
While progress has been made with a number of companies making commitments to harm reduction, it is necessary for these commitments to be more clearly linked to the goal of actively phasing-out high-risk products, in order to sharply reduce the death and disease they cause.