Today, most smokers are aware of the implications and risks associated with this habit; however, the World Health Organization (WHO) points out that, by 2025, even 1,000 million people will continue to smoke (a figure that is not far from the more than 1,100 million smokers in 2022). This is a reflection of the fact that the traditional public policies adopted to combat the habit of smoking have all the effectiveness that was expected.
In this context, there are other approaches that focus on reducing the harm caused by cigarettes as a complementary tool to existing policies. The goal is to provide a better, science-based option for adult smokers who would otherwise continue the habit.
At Philip Morris International (PMI), they have been committed to the comprehensive transformation of their business for more than a decade in order to achieve a smoke-free future from cigarettes as soon as possible, through the development of science-based non-combustion alternatives. In addition, from the tobacco company they are clear: “An alternative must be offered to all those who are not going to quit smoking,” explains Tommaso di Giovanni, Vice President of Communication at Philip Morris International. “Every effort must come to reduce the toxicity of tobacco products.”
Philip Morris advocates for a smoke-free future.PMI
In this sense, the step forward is none other than to eliminate combustion and, with it, smoke, which is the most harmful element of smoking. Although from the company they are clear in stating that the only alternative with zero risk and, therefore, the best option that any smoker can take is to stop using tobacco and nicotine completely.
Within the category of smoke-free alternatives (without) there is a range adapted to the demands of the different markets, although the most prominent are electronic cigarettes (which do not contain tobacco, but can contain nicotine added to the liquid solution). and tobacco heating devices (which are used with real tobacco and therefore inhale nicotine with their use).
And why is it important to eliminate smoke from the process? When a cigarette is lit, due to the combustion process and the high temperatures that are reached (above 600 °C), a large number of chemical substances are generated that are released into the smoke that the smoker inhales. It is estimated that there are more than 6,000 chemical substances, and of which about 100 have been identified as harmful or potentially harmful.
For this reason, when combustion is replaced by heating, these high temperatures are not reached and, therefore, the average level of these harmful substances present in the smoke is significantly reduced. “When you burn, it produces ash and solid particles. If we get rid of combustion, we also get rid of all those solid particles that settle in the lungs,” says Gizelle Baker, Vice President of Global Medical Relations at PMI.
And this is precisely what smoke-free alternatives do. Thanks to this temperature control, which only heats without actually burning, what is achieved is to generate a different vapor or aerosol than cigarette smoke. Therefore, these alternatives have the potential to significantly reduce the risk of harm associated with smoking, although the scientific evidence available for each specific product must be analyzed. In any case, they are not without risk and the use of a large part of them inhales nicotine*, which is addictive, so they are only aimed at adult smokers who would otherwise continue smoking cigarettes (the form of tobacco consumption and the most harmful -and yet most widespread- nicotine that exists).
There are countries that have included the third way of reducing the harm of cigarettes when designing their anti-smoking policies, as a complementary tool to existing policies. As is the case in the United Kingdom, among other countries.
The Anglo-Saxon country has one of the strictest regulations in the world regarding cigarette consumption and although it sounds paradoxical, the country’s health authorities have a favorable view of the possibility of using electronic cigarettes to reduce the harmful effects of those who smoke otherwise. they would continue to smoke. In this country, electronic cigarettes arrived about ten years ago and, while in 2011 the prevalence of smoking was 19.8%, in 2019 it had dropped to 13.9%, according to data from the British National Statistics Office.
As we discussed, there is the possibility of helping to combat the public health impact of smoking if we manage to complement existing prevention and cessation strategies with a harm reduction approach that encourages adult smokers who would otherwise continue to switch to better alternatives, reversing it in a positive impact on public health. For this reason, it is essential that each relevant group (civil society, regulatory bodies, public authorities, health community, manufacturers, etc.) work with a common goal: favoring a framework in which adult smokers are provided with truthful information based on on scientific evidence that allows them to make informed decisions.
* Nicotine, although it is not the main cause of smoking-related diseases, is not innocuous and is contraindicated for certain profiles (minors, pregnant women, lactating women, diabetics, people with hypertension or heart failure).
Heated Tobacco Products, Cigarettes, and E-Cigarettes: What’s the Difference? (pmiscience.com)
Document ‘Smoke-free products: these are the facts’