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2021 is a critical year for tobacco harm reduction

Our Chief Marketing Officer Kingsley Wheaton called 2021 ‘a critical year for progress’ for tobacco harm reduction as he addressed the Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum (GTNF) in London today.

23 September 2021

Kingsley was giving his keynote speech at the GTNF, which saw senior leaders and scientists from BAT exchanging views on tobacco harm reduction with a range of stakeholders. These included independent scientists, public health experts, government representatives, investors and fellow members of the tobacco/nicotine industries.

“I believe that now, more than ever, we need events such as GTNF, Kingsley said. “Events that allow us to come together and discuss some of the most important issues we face. For instance, how can we make a difference to society by embedding and driving tobacco harm reduction. We must push for more progress – more than that – accelerated progress. This, therefore, is a critical year.”

He added: “Responsible, science-backed and well-thought-through regulation is essential to ensuring that adult consumers can enjoy reduced-risk products*† with confidence, while governments and health bodies can be assured of product safety and quality.”

You can read a full transcript of Kingsley’s keynote speech below

Among the other speakers at GTNF were David O’Reilly, Director, Scientific Research and Marina Bellini, Director, Digital and Information.

On a panel called ‘Science Driving Policy’, David said that to accelerate tobacco harm reduction, we need more robust scientific data and evidence-based policies.

Marina is due to appear on the closing open mic panel this evening, telling delegates that the role of digital is key to our A Better Tomorrow™ transformation – and to that of our wider industry.

* Based on the weight of evidence and assuming a complete switch from cigarette smoking. These products are not risk free and are addictive.
† Our products as sold in the US, including Vuse, Velo, Grizzly, Kodiak, and Camel Snus, are subject to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation and no reduced-risk claims will be made as to these products without FDA clearance.


Kingsley Wheaton’s keynote speech at GTNF

A critical year for progress

It is a great privilege to have been invited to speak again at this year’s GTNF. I feel very fortunate to be able to present at the event here in London, while also being able to engage virtually with those of you who are unable to travel. I would like to say thank you to our hosts for organising this hybrid event and to all our other speakers who continue to make this such an engaging gathering.

I believe that now, more than ever, we need events such as GTNF. Events that allow us to come together and discuss some of the most important issues we face. For instance, how can we make a difference to society by embedding and driving tobacco harm reduction. We have heard about some of the challenges that tobacco harm reduction faces - yet despite these, we must push for more progress – more than that – we need accelerated progress.

This, therefore, is a critical year.

Of course, we know that prohibition does not work.

Notwithstanding genuine progress in tobacco harm reduction acceptance, we see some countries moving to ban or heavily restrict access to vapour products, despite the available scientific evidence. If the WHO tries to advance further, restrictive measures for New Category products at COP9 in November, that could seriously undermine the progress being made in making reduced risk tobacco and nicotine products widely available to smokers.

But before I move on, I want to be clear. My words are designed to highlight what I believe could be achieved. They are about Tobacco Harm Reduction. This is neither a ‘battle’ to be won nor lost. It is about science, consumer choice and the need for pragmatic solutions. If we fail to come together, determined to find solutions, there will be no winners.

It would be hard to imagine anything more damaging to global tobacco harm reduction efforts than further exclusion of these alternative products. These products are not entirely risk free, of course, and are addictive, yet based on the weight of evidence and a complete switch from cigarettes, they are reduced risk.

Approximately 100 million adult smokers have already switched to reduced risk tobacco and nicotine products and, simply put, restricting access to them is both misguided and regressive.

Responsible, science-backed and well-thought-through regulation is essential to ensuring that adult consumers can enjoy reduced-risk products with confidence, while governments and health bodies can be assured of product safety and quality.

There is evidence that following bans, vapour consumers can revert to smoking – undoing the good work of category development and its evolutioni ii. , Governments should be revoking bans on alternative products, not introducing them.

Therefore, a whole of society approach is required

Last year, I called for such a “whole-of-society approach” - as referenced by the United Nations - to this important public health issue. An approach where everyone, irrespective of their affiliation, not only needs, but must have a voice.

I also laid out a five-point framework that would maximise the impact of tobacco harm reduction:

  1. an evidence-based approach
  2. proportionate regulation
  3. freedom to innovate
  4. Engagement, dialogue and communication
  5. Responsible marketing practices

And this year, once again, I want to call for a collective and pragmatic approach to tobacco harm reduction, and reinforce why we believe this five point framework is crucial.

At BAT we are leading with purpose and transforming our business

We have a clear purpose. To build “A Better Tomorrow” by reducing the health impact of our business. And, in so doing, create multi-stakeholder value.

Combustible products pose serious health risks. The only way to avoid these risks is to not start – or to quit – smoking. Yet we know that more than 1.1 billion people today consume tobacco and nicotine products globally.

That’s why BAT is transforming: Our goal is to create new products, backed by science, that provide adult smokers with enjoyable, less risky alternatives*†. The BAT of tomorrow will be a high-growth, consumer goods company: global, consumer-centric, multi-category, with sustainability at its core.

The need “to pay serious attention to vaping’s potential to help adult smokers”, was succinctly explained by 15 Past Presidents of SRNT.

In their expert opinion, “the impact could be much larger if…

  • the public health community paid serious attention to vaping’s potential to help adult smokers
  • smokers received accurate information about the relative risks of vaping and smoking
  • and policies were designed with the potential effects on smokers in mind

They themselves go on to say… “That is not happening”iii

The BAT of today understands and agrees with this assessment. That such a sentiment is not embraced more broadly on behalf of the millions of tobacco consumers is a loss for them and for society.

For us, of course, investment in science and research is key

Over recent years, BAT has invested billions to develop, commercialise and scientifically-substantiate our portfolio of reduced-risk tobacco and nicotine products*†.

This year, one of our key achievements has been the outstanding data we generated for our Tobacco Heating Product, glo. This was the largest scientific study ever conducted by BAT in its long history.

The 6-months results showed that smokers switching exclusively to glo had a significant reduction in a range of biomarkers of potential harm compared with continuing to smoke cigarettes. And critically, for most biomarkers measured, the reductions seen in people using glo were similar to those who stopped smoking completely. That is to say, those biomarkers are comparable to cessation.iv

This does matter, as the Institute of Medicine has made clear, “The closer the risks and exposures from the Reduced Risk Products are to cessation …the more confident a regulator can be in the chances for net public health benefit”.v

We also generated clinical modelling data that showed that by 2100 as many as 13 million potential life years lost could be avoided by switching to a tobacco heated product, such as glo, for instance, when compared to smoking only.vi This would seem to be evidence that governments and regulators should consider when making health policy decisions.

It is evidence that allows stakeholders to understand and quantify the potential of these alternative products.

It is evidence that underpins our products and our commitment to encouraging smokers to switch.

We have big ambitions, of course.

We aim to have 50 million consumers of our non-combustible products by 2030. And we are well on our way.

Our portfolio gained another 2.6million consumers in the first half of 2021vii - our highest ever rate of consumer acquisition since 2015 when we launched our vapour product, Vuse, internationally.viii

Let’s collaborate then on regulation, a collaboration founded in science

Robust, scientific-evidence, proportionate regulation and access are key to getting people to stop smoking and switch. Regulation (and here I include excise) that is practical and enforceable for the regulator, industry and consumer, where relative risk is understood and applied to decision making.

This principle was validated by Prof David Levy, who developed a smoking and vaping simulation model. It showed that in the US if adult smokers were to switch to nicotine vaping products, “1.8 million premature deaths would be avoided and 38.9 million life years gained between 2013 and 2060”.ix

Appropriate regulation would give consumers who might otherwise continue to smoke the confidence to use such products, while also supporting underpinning those regulatory frameworks to accelerate access for adult consumers.

Both of these, I am sad to reflect, are under threat.

A survey from 2018 showed that 62% of respondents from across six European countries felt that e-cigarettes were more harmful than cigarettes, an increase from 59% in 2016.x This is despite the growing body of evidence and recognition of THR from numerous health bodies.

This level of misunderstanding concerns me; it concerns BAT and it should concern society.

But why is this happening?

Why? Because of a vociferous minority who do not believe in tobacco harm reduction. Who do not believe that adult consumers should have choice. Let alone that they should be able to make an informed choice. This stifles dialogue.

Yet we must have Engagement, Dialogue and Communication.

Engagement does not mean agreement. Rather, it is about the exchange of information and opinions, while reviewing relevant and applicable science, data and insights to form balanced opinions.

I can think of nowhere where exclusion has been the way forward

The recent SRNT decision to exclude industry participation from their annual scientific meeting, favours censorship over engagement and discussion and is another unedifying example. A lack of trust in its own peer-review process, combined with a lack of membership consultation, does not speak to inclusive solutions.

This ignores industry scientists who are committed to rigorous and transparent debate, who conduct some of the most rigorous science of all and welcome peer-review scrutiny. Surely, this can only have a detrimental effect on knowledge development and, ultimately, hold back progress.

This move is not only illogical but, in all likelihood, unethical. It is the removal of choice and serves only to revert to ‘quit or die’ as a flawed public health choice.

But despite these decisions, we remain absolutely committed to developing new, reduced risk products and, in so doing, putting the consumer first.

To change and transform, we must continue to innovate

We know that adult smokers are more likely to switch and replace smoking entirely, if the alternative tobacco and nicotine products deliver comparable satisfaction in nicotine delivery, use, and sensorial aspects.

The main reason cited by adult smokers for stopping using e-cigarettes and tobacco heating products is because the experience is not close enough to smoking.xi

This is why Freedom to innovate is critically important. Innovation should be fostered and incentivised commercially.

At BAT we are constantly investing and innovating. We are a business that defines itself not by the product it sells, but by the consumer needs that it meets. We are creating the brands of the future – and those are brands with real purpose.

Our portfolio of reduced-risk products currently comprises of three categories:

  • Vapour products - VUSE
  • Tobacco heating products (THP) – glo
  • And Modern oral products (nicotine pouches and lozenges) – VELO

Our brands are backed by a wealth of scientific evidence. Evidence that has been reviewed by our scientific peers.

Importantly, these brands are increasingly chosen by consumers:

  • In the first half, we delivered 50% New Category revenue growth building on our acceleration during 2020
  • Each of our three drive brands – Glo, Vuse & Velo - recorded volume growth of 70% or above
  • And, we recently announced that we have achieved global value share leadership of the vapour category and Vuse is now the number one brand globally by value share. It is the category value share leader in four of the top five vapour markets (Canada, France, Germany and the UK), and strong US momentum means Vuse is now leader by value share in 22 states.xii
  • Earlier this year, Vuse also became the first global carbon neutral vape brand demonstrating our commitment to developing brands with purpose, and making this our transformation a sustainable onexiii
  • And for Glo, following the launch of our Hyper platform, we have secured the large majority of category growth in 2021 - almost doubling consumable volume growth and device sales in H1’20 vs H1’21.

And our innovation doesn’t stop at our products, in 2021 we will include information about our alternative products in 1 billion packs of our combustible products worldwide – focusing on priority New Category markets. This demonstrates our commitment and proactivity in encouraging smokers, who would otherwise continue to smoke, to switch to New Categories.

This shows what’s possible when you continuously strive to innovate in response to consumer needs.

We now have 16.1m consumers who use our non-combustible products. And it is because of these consumers, and others like them, that we remain committed to tobacco harm reduction.

I am absolutely of the belief that we could achieve our transformation goals much sooner if we come together take a whole of society approach.

So, we must move forward and collaborate to support progress and change

When governments and policy makers adopt proportionate, risk-based regulation, we all make progress. We need this to be a reality for the ‘whole of society’.

It is not about ‘us versus them’, but progressive policies that are founded in science, not opinion. That do not seek to censor, marginalise or exclude. Where people work together in the best interest of society.

We must approach this thoughtfully and systematically. And we must do this together.

We need to work together to create a system that is clear about the harm caused by smoking yet recognises, holistically and consistently, where real public health gains can be made. A system that encourages consumer choice.

A system that doesn’t just support but accelerates tobacco harm reduction. Together, we have over a billion reasons to do this and get it right. Let’s come together and accelerate that reality.

* Based on the weight of evidence and assuming a complete switch from cigarette smoking. These products are not risk free and are addictive.
† Our products as sold in the US, including Vuse, Velo, Grizzly, Kodiak, and Camel Snus, are subject to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation and no reduced-risk claims will be made as to these products without FDA clearance.

i. A Difference-in-Differences Analysis of Youth Smoking and a Ban on Sales of Flavored Tobacco Products in San Francisco, California | Adolescent Medicine | JAMA Pediatrics | JAMA Network
ii. Examining the relationship of vaping to smoking initiation among US youth and young adults: a reality check | Tobacco Control (bmj.com)
iii. AJPH202134321_proof.pdf (aphapublications.org)
iv. Changes in biomarkers after 180 days of tobacco heating product use: a randomised trial | SpringerLink
v. US Institute of Medicine: Scientific Standards for Studies on Modified Risk Tobacco Products 2012
vi. Modeling the Population Health Impacts of Heated Tobacco Products...: Ingenta Connect
vii. BAT full year results 2020
viii. H1 results statement 2021
ix. Public health implications of vaping in the USA: the smoking and vaping simulation model | Population Health Metrics | Full Text (biomedcentral.com)
x. Gravely et al. Eur J Public Health 2020. doi: 10.1093/eurpub/ckz215
xi. Simonavicius et al. Drug Alcohol Depend 2017. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2017.01.002.
xii. Based on Vype/Vuse estimated value share from RRP in measured retail for vapour (i.e. total vapour category value in retail sales) in the USA, Canada, France, UK, Germany. These 5 markets cover an estimated 77% of global vapour closed system NTO, calculated in June - July 2021.
xiii. Based on ePod, ePen, eTank mini, Alto devices and consumables internal sales forecast (calculated March 2021) for 12 months starting from April 2021.

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