Tobacco company Philip Morris South Africa (PMSA) has welcomed President Ramaphosa’s commitment, at the State of the Nation Address, to extract the greatest benefit from revolutionary technology changes. 

PMSA MD, Marcelo Nico says: “The President is right that there are vast benefits to embracing new innovation and technology as part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). At PMSA we believe a significant benefit can be derived from combining tobacco control and tobacco harm reduction strategies involving less harmful nicotine products developed through scientific and technological advances.”

He explains that tobacco harm reduction is about replacing products that are known to be harmful with products that are scientifically substantiated to be less harmful than continued smoking; even while less harmful does not mean risk-free.

Globally, in 2018 Philip Morris International (PMI) channelled 92% of its Research and Development budget into creating less harmful alternatives, for those adult smokers who would otherwise continue smoking. The company is focusing its business on developing these better alternatives to replace cigarettes as soon as possible. Locally, its investments to create a smoke-free South Africa will grow to R650 million by 2020.

Regulatory framework

However, Nico states that the right regulatory framework is critical to fully realise the benefits of innovation and technological advancement. He explains that the best choice for South Africa’s 10 million smokers is to quit tobacco and nicotine entirely, but those who don’t should have access to and information about less harmful alternatives.

“Technology is enabling the development of less harmful alternatives to continued smoking. However, to succeed in addressing the public health issue of smoking, South Africa needs sensible regulation that recognises the role of smoke-free alternatives in helping those adults who would otherwise continue to smoke to move away from cigarettes, while protecting youth and non-smokers.

“Coupled with responsible commercialisation by manufacturers, we can together achieve a smoke-free South Africa,” says Nico.

In a paper by the Economist commissioned by PMI, the authors state that “It’s not unusual for technology to run ahead of regulation.” They note that regulators who deal with complex issues and consider the views of stakeholders are better placed to strike the right balance between regulation and the societal benefits of disruptive technologies.

Nico adds that harm reduction strategies have proven to be effective in other industries and evidence is mounting that tobacco harm reduction involving less harmful alternatives is a sensible approach to reduce smoking rates in South Africa faster. Several governments, including New Zealand, Norway and the UK, have already started to recognise the role that such products can play in offering adult smokers a better choice than smoking. 

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