british american tobacco p.l.c. sustainability report 2009 - Our approach to harm reduction


What’s tobacco harm reduction and why is it important?

The only way to avoid the health risks associated with tobacco products is not to use them at all. Public health policies are therefore intended to discourage people from smoking in the first place and to quit if they already do. However, in addition to cessation and prevention efforts, tobacco harm reduction is also increasingly being considered.

Approach to harm reduction The term ‘tobacco harm reduction’ does not have a single meaning that is accepted by all. The US Institute of Medicine defines it as “minimising harms and decreasing total morbidity and mortality without completely eliminating tobacco and nicotine use”.

A more detailed description of our approach to harm reduction is set out in our 2008 Sustainability Report Opens in new window.

Our approach to harm reduction

In 2009, we evolved our approach to tobacco harm reduction. We aspire to reduce the harm caused by smoking by evolving our products to a portfolio of commercially successful lower risk products that meet consumer and societal expectations. We recognise that we will only be able to succeed if others support this aspiration.

Our approach is to pursue the research, development and test marketing of innovative tobacco products that will have consumer acceptability and will be recognised by scientific and public health communities and regulators as posing reduced risks to health.

A scientific framework must be developed, agreed and used to assess novel products and their potential to reduce the risks.

1. Addressing the scientific challenges around a combustible ‘PREP’

There is no recognised assessment framework for combustible PREPs (potential reduced-exposure products), but we are working to develop one that will be acceptable to regulators and public health stakeholders. We are proposing a framework that includes tests to assess smoke yield, namely how much overall smoke and specific toxicants people take from a product; and dose, the amount of smoke toxicants absorbed into the body. These tests could help determine whether prototype products are sufficiently different from conventional products to result in lower toxicant exposure in smokers.

2. Engaging with regulators and the scientific community

We believe that tobacco regulation must have a foundation in sound science. With over 50 years of research experience, we can make an important contribution to that science base. However, we face significant challenges, such as maintaining our ability to engage with the wider scientific community. There are continued attempts to denormalise the industry and by implication to discredit industry research; funding restrictions and, in some cases, misinterpretation of the guidelines for implementation of the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control relating to industry participation (see the Marketplace section). These have made scientists and others wary about the prospect of engaging with a tobacco business. There is also insufficient public health debate around the issue of tobacco harm reduction.

For this reason, our scientific research programme is supported by an approach that seeks to build relationships with external scientists and regulators, to increase awareness of our harm reduction approach and to address the concerns of the scientific and regulatory communities.

3. Researching and test marketing smokeless tobacco products

We are actively researching novel smokeless tobacco products and have two product development facilities. We are also currently test marketing snus to develop our understanding of consumer preferences and gauge consumer acceptance.

There is increasing consensus that snus presents substantially lower overall health risks than cigarettes, such as far lower risks of lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. However, smokeless does not mean harmless. Research on snus and heart disease is less clear and some public health bodies have concluded that snus is a cause of pancreatic cancer and other diseases.

The sale of snus is currently banned in the European Union, except in Sweden. Sales of loose snus only are allowed in Denmark.