MedCity Influencers, Opinion, Health Tech

Philip Morris wants cigarettes banned by 2030? About that …

This announcement has nothing to do with getting people to quit tobacco—and everything to do with migrating smokers to other addictive forms of tobacco like PMI’s iQOS product, which heats tobacco rather than burning it.

smoke, smoking, cigarette, cessation

Philip Morris International (PMI) received a healthy amount of press attention when it declared a few months ago that it wants traditional combustible cigarettes, including those manufactured by PMI, to be banned in the UK by 2030.

But here’s the unhealthy truth: This announcement has nothing to do with getting people to quit tobacco—and everything to do with migrating smokers to other addictive forms of tobacco like PMI’s iQOS product, which heats tobacco rather than burning it.  Do we know for certain that inhaling a heated plume of tobacco vapor into one’s lungs is 100% safe?  Is this not a 1950s rerun where cigarettes were recommended as part of a healthy lifestyle?  Is this not like the recent exploding vape epidemic where vape was initially thought to be safe, and now millions of kids and adults use vape and will likely convert to using cigarettes as well?

Weeks after the company announced it will stop selling Marlboro cigarettes in the UK within a decade, PMI made a $1.4 billion offer to purchase Vectura, a pharmaceutical company that makes asthma inhalers and other products that treat lung conditions. Now that they’ve sealed the deal, it marks a profitable transition for the company to generate new revenue from other tobacco products and respiratory drugs used for the treatment of tobacco-related fatal lung diseases like emphysema.

Philip Morris claims it wants to help people avoid the risks of tobacco and nicotine, but its actions tell a different story. In its 2020 annual report to shareholders, tobacco giant Altria Group, Inc. (the parent company of Philip Morris USA, U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company and others) emphasized its commitment to IQOS electronic smoking devices:

PM USA is focused on expanding the availability and awareness of IQOS and Marlboro HeatSticks, communicating to adult smokers the FDA-authorized reduced exposure claim, and bringing the improved IQOS 3 device to market. We believe PM USA has the right approach to maximize its first mover advantage while responsibly positioning the U.S. heated tobacco category for long-term growth and profitability.

Tobacco companies will never stop protecting their interests. This underscores an urgent need to provide consumers with accurate and life-saving information – and to help all tobacco users quit all forms of tobacco completely and for good, using evidence-based quit interventions such as trained coaches, proven behavior change interventions, and FDA approved pharmacotherapy.  Isn’t quitting safer and more logical than switching a tobacco user from one tobacco product to another?

The public health crisis caused by tobacco is monumental. Tobacco causes 8 million preventable deaths per year globally and over $1.4 trillion (yes, trillion with a T) in excess health care expenditures.  A whopping 68% of adult US tobacco users want to quit tobacco, and 55% make a quit attempt every year, according to CDC. Unfortunately, just 7.5% of smokers who try to quit succeed initially, and many return to tobacco use within one year of quitting.

Of course, nothing can make a bigger, more immediate difference than empowering millions of tobacco users worldwide to quit tobacco entirely. Scientific and technological advances inform us that tobacco users don’t have to stop “cold turkey” to be successful—instead, they can rethink how to quit and understand the psychology of why they smoke.

Many smoking cessation programs work with employers and healthcare companies to assist employees in quitting at no cost to the tobacco user. Modern, clinically proven approaches to quitting include one-on-one coaching, nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) and personalized apps with community support.

Modern breakthroughs in smoking cessation are helping tobacco users reduce and quit on their own terms, safely and for good.  Quitting has a positive ripple effect that helps employers, insurance providers, families, and friends, as well as the tobacco user themself.

Why wait until 2030 to ban cigarettes when we can do something right now?

Photo: artisteer, Getty Images

David S. Utley, M.D. was an academic surgeon at Stanford, specializing in the treatment of head and neck cancers related to tobacco use. Utley is presently Founder and CEO of Pivot, a digital health company that delivers clinically proven, behavioral science-based solutions that empower people to take control of their personal health. The company's first product is helping people quit all forms of tobacco, for good.

This post appears through the MedCity Influencers program. Anyone can publish their perspective on business and innovation in healthcare on MedCity News through MedCity Influencers. Click here to find out how.