british american tobacco p.l.c. sustainability report 2011 - Our approach

Skip Data Fast Track Navigation

Data fast track

Sustainability Report 2011

What is tobacco harm reduction?

The US Institute of Medicine defines tobacco harm reduction as “minimising harms and decreasing total morbidity and mortality, without completely eliminating tobacco and nicotine use”. This recognises a well-established public health policy concept that seeks pragmatic ways to minimise the impact of an activity or behaviour that carries inherent risks. Well known examples of this are the use of seat belts in cars and crash helmets for motorcyclists.

Our approachIn terms of tobacco this could mean that, in addition to a continued emphasis on prevention and cessation efforts, adult tobacco consumers should have the option of choosing less risky products instead of existing more risky products, such as conventional cigarettes. However, few governments currently support this view.

Our role in tobacco harm reduction

As a manufacturer of tobacco products, we have a responsibility to pursue ways in which we might reduce the health risks of our products. Although nicotine is not completely harmless, contrary to what many people believe it is not associated with most tobacco-related diseases. There is widespread agreement in the scientific community that it is the toxicants in the tobacco and tobacco smoke that are responsible for the majority of these. Indeed in a Public Assessment Report, the UK Government’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) states that: “Nicotine is strongly addictive and stopping smoking results in cravings and withdrawal effects, but it is the tobacco smoke that produces the diseases and premature deaths associated with smoking.”1

So, on a ‘product risk continuum’, where products can be lined up in a decreasing order of risk, conventional cigarettes can be considered the riskiest; some forms of low-toxicant smokeless tobacco products, while not risk free, much less risky; and regulatory approved nicotine products almost risk free.

Product risk continuum diagram

Our previous efforts at test marketing lower-risk products have given us important insights into tobacco consumers’ varied product preferences and different needs for potentially reduced-risk products. We believe that a ‘one product fits all’ approach cannot achieve tobacco harm reduction, so our approach is to make available a range of reduced-risk tobacco and nicotine products for adult consumers.

Alongside this, we are engaging with the scientific and public health community to try to build more widespread support for this broader approach to tobacco harm reduction.

1 MHRA Public Assessment Report. ‘The use of nicotine replacement therapy to reduce harm in smokers’, February 2010


If lots of people stop smoking but switch to medicinal nicotine products, it would be no more harmful than the existing use of caffeine... We need to liberalise the medicinal market and introduce a decent cigarette substitute. We may end up with millions of people addicted to nicotine inhalers, but so what? Millions are addicted to caffeine.

Professor John Britton, Chair of the Tobacco Advisory Group of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP). Speaking at the launch of the Tobacco Advisory Group of the RCP’s report ‘Harm reduction in nicotine addiction: helping people who can’t quit’, October 2007

Back to top