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Why PMI is leading a harm reduction campaign

Why PMI is leading a harm reduction campaign

5 min read


Why PMI is leading a harm reduction campaign

Unsplash / Nghia Le

This article is sponsored by Philip Morris International

Philip Morris International (PMI) — the world’s largest tobacco manufacturer — is phasing out of the cigarettes business in the international markets where it operates as part of what it calls a smoke-free future. The goal is to reduce the harms associated with tobacco use. Leading this effort in the Western Hemisphere is Deepak Mishra, the company’s former chief strategy officer. In July, Mishra became President of PMI’s Americas Region, encompassing Canada, Latin America and the US. 

SmartBrief asked Mishra what is entailed in reducing the harmful impacts of tobacco.

What is the “harm reduction equation” and why is it so important to PMI?

The harms of smoking are near universally well known. Smoking is addictive and can cause serious disease, and so the best choice is for those who smoke to quit tobacco and nicotine altogether. However, many don’t and it is estimated that more than a billion people will still continue smoking for the foreseeable future. The harm reduction equation describes the criteria for making a significant impact on public health by converting the greatest number of existing adult smokers who would otherwise continue smoking to better alternatives. This is a model developed by several well known public health experts.

A few important steps are needed to make this common sense approach a reality. First, you need to invent better alternatives to cigarettes — products that do not burn tobacco. When you remove burning, you eliminate smoke formation and smoke is where the vast majority of chemicals that cause smoking-related disease are found. Second, these alternatives should be appealing to adult smokers. In other words, they should deliver a taste and sensory experience that leads smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke to change completely to a better alternative.

Deepak Mishra

We can achieve a significant public health benefit only when a large number of these people who would have otherwise continued to smoke, instead switch from cigarettes to better alternatives. That is why we are delivering a smoke-free future, and have invested more than $8 billion to support the research, development and commercialization of smoke-free products. 

Why is a smoke-free future not a nicotine-free future? 

Many people assume that it’s nicotine that makes cigarette smoking harmful. In fact, nicotine, while addictive and not risk-free, is not the primary cause of smoke-related disease. 

Nicotine is one of the reasons that people smoke, along with taste and ritual. In order for most adult smokers to switch from cigarettes to smoke-free alternatives, these products must contain nicotine. That’s precisely why we are focused on developing products that provide nicotine but with far lower average levels of the harmful chemicals found in cigarette smoke. 

Are we saying that these products are safe? No. There is no such thing as a safe tobacco product and nicotine products are addictive. What we are saying is that these products are better alternatives for adults compared to continued smoking. The best option for health remains not to start, or to quit tobacco and nicotine use altogether.

How does PMI turn tobacco harm reduction into a business reality? And what comes next? 

Researching and developing better non-combustible alternatives that are scientifically substantiated was the first step; broadening access for adult smokers, while simultaneously and deliberately working to phase out cigarette smoking, completed the equation of our smoke-free purpose. This is the heart of our journey to become a smoke-free company — and our objective is to be a majority smoke-free company in 2025. 

In the process, we have expanded our social, human, intellectual and manufactured capital in ways that allow us to enter new spaces. An important part of our transformation is utilizing our considerable scientific expertise, in areas like life sciences and inhalation technology, to drive advancements that can help meet medical needs currently going unmet in areas outside tobacco and nicotine. We call this “Beyond Nicotine.” 

In order to demonstrate the seriousness of this endeavour, our objective is to generate at least $1 billion in net revenues from beyond nicotine products in 2025. This aspirational goal aims to further cement the confidence we have about the long term, as we evolve into new areas such as lifestyle and consumer wellness products. 

When will PMI no longer sell cigarettes? 

PMI believes that with the right regulatory encouragement and support from civil society, cigarette sales can end within 10 to 15 years in many countries. We are fully committed to rapidly replace cigarettes with science-based better alternatives, but we cannot do it alone. We are eager to see measures introduced that drive large-scale switching as quickly as possible. We are confident that the right mix of government leadership and commercial initiative will dramatically accelerate efforts to reduce smoking across the world. 

Deepak Mishra became President Americas Region in July 2021. He joined PMI as Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer in September 2018. Prior to joining PMI, Mishra held the role of Managing Director, Portfolio Operations at Centerbridge Partners, a private equity firm, where he led commercial, operational and digital transformations in investments in consumer services, renewable energy and distribution sectors.