We are working on three broad product categories based on the way they are designed, manufactured and consumed: reduced toxicant cigarettes; low-toxicant smokeless tobacco products; and regulatory approved nicotine products.
Reduced toxicant cigarettes
It is well established that people who smoke more cigarettes a day and over a longer period of time have an increased risk of developing a smoking-related disease. So we are researching whether cigarettes with lower levels of toxicants in the tobacco smoke might lower health risks for those adults who don’t want to quit.
Our approach is to:
- Determine which toxicants in smoke are significant for disease and develop tools to measure smokers’ exposure to them;
- Develop products that may substantially reduce exposure to these significant toxicants and, through clinical testing, demonstrate that they do; and
- Assess whether this reduction in exposure can reasonably be expected to reduce the risk of one or more specific diseases.
Our work on developing laboratory models of disease has progressed in two areas: establishing the most effective way for us to expose cells to tobacco smoke so that we can evaluate the impacts; and creating more sophisticated models to mimic the processes involved in the development of cancer and other diseases.
We have set up a new research group, Predictive and Experimental Toxicology, which is focused on developing the science to evaluate which smoke toxicants are the most significant in the development of various smoking-related diseases.
We have made good progress in increasing our understanding of how and where smoke
particles are deposited in the respiratory system. This will help us to develop new technologies that could reduce these impacts.
We have also reinvigorated our biotechnology research, using our understanding of the tobacco plant genome to work out how to develop new plant lines with lower levels of certain toxicants or the precursors to these toxicants.
In our last Sustainability Report , we discussed our clinical study, which showed that smokers who switched to modified prototype cigarettes had reduced exposure to certain smoke toxicants compared to people smoking conventional cigarettes. This short-term clinical study is a good first step, but we need stronger scientific evidence to establish reduced risk. Our next step is a longer clinical study starting in 2012. This will measure biomarkers of biological effect in body fluids that could indicate biological changes related to disease processes. Although these changes will not tell us whether the modified prototype cigarettes actually present lower overall health risks, they provide evidence we need to see whether we are on the right track.
The cigarette technologies being tested in this study use novel processes that would need to be scaled up to be viable for large-scale commercial production. This is an important area of our current research and development effort.
Recent publications from the US Food and Drug Administration’s Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee and the World Health Organisation’s scientific advisory group suggest that future regulation of combustible tobacco products could be based on the toxicant levels emitted from them. The harm reduction potential of such regulation is not clearly understood. We believe that our research into reduced toxicant cigarettes will prepare us for such a regulatory future and allow us to contribute to the evidence base for the development of regulation for this category.
Regulatory approved nicotine products
The UK Government’s recently updated public health strategy for England considers adults to be responsible for their choices and so there may be many smokers who may not want to quit smoking. In 2010, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency approved a ‘harm reduction’ element for some regulatory approved nicotine products for their use as either a complete or partial substitute for cigarette smoking. We believe that the products currently on the market are not meeting the needs of these smokers.
Nicoventures was recently established to focus exclusively on the development and commercialisation of regulatory approved nicotine products. It is a stand-alone company within the British American Tobacco Group and is managed separately from our tobacco business.
Nicoventures is exploring the development of nicotine products that, subject to regulatory approval, will provide smokers with a safer alternative to cigarettes that they actually want to use. If it is successful this will also meet the objectives of some leading public health professionals and make commercial sense to us and to our shareholders. It forms part of our long-term business sustainability agenda.
Smokeless tobacco products
Independent evidence shows that certain low-toxicant smokeless tobacco products, such as Swedish-style snus, present substantially lower overall health risks than cigarette smoking. We tried to bring snus to new markets, but had a number of setbacks: it is banned from sale in some parts of the world; in countries where we test marketed it, the regulatory environment did not allow the communication of the relative risks of snus compared to cigarettes to adult smokers; and smokers often did not like using it in preference to cigarettes.
We believe that smokeless tobacco products could still play an important role in a harm reduction approach. So we are looking at developing other innovative low-toxicant smokeless tobacco products that we hope will appeal to tobacco consumers and be approved by regulators.