The head of one of the world’s biggest tobacco manufacturers believes that cigarettes could be obsolete in many countries within the next 10 to 15 years.
Philip Morris International CEO André Calantzopoulos told the recent Concordia Annual Summit that with the “right regulatory encouragement and support from civil society”, cigarette consumers would rapidly switch to smoke-free products such as vapes.
The New York summit brings together governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), business and other stakeholders.
The company’s strategy is to actively encourage its customers to switch to vaping, which Calantzopoulos and his company have argued is the future of the industry.
But despite Philip Morris and other big tobacco companies extolling the safety virtues of vaping, experts and public health authorities deem it hazardous.
Cantzapoulos claimed that 11.2 million smokers people had already switched to Philip Morris’ smoke-free products, which is an encouraging sign.
“A future in which cigarettes are obsolete is within reach,” he said.
If Calantzopoulous’ prognosis is accurate, it would be an incredible feat.
According to the World Health Organisation, there are 1.3 billion smokers in the world, with 80% of them being in the middle to lower income groups.
Tobacco use claims 8 million lives a year, mostly in developing and underdeveloped nations.
Calantzopoulos said that to achieve this, humanity would have to get over partisanship and polarisation, and embrace science.
In apparent reference to the anti-tobacco lobby which rejects all forms of nicotine consumption, Calantzopoulos said: “The tendency of individuals to put their self-centered impulses ahead of community wellness remains on display.”
He said the Covid-19 coronavirus had proved that instead of using science, facts and inclusion, hard ideology was still driving divisiveness.
“Divisiveness, a binary choosing of sides, not only hinders progress but threatens to thwart it. Science can be, and is being, weaponised to suit narrow agendas...
“Science and facts are being held hostage – and distorted – by politics, and people are suffering as a result,” he said.
He added that he was experiencing first-hand how detrimental polarisation was to making progress in eradicating smoking.
“Today, science-based innovative products that do not involve combustion offer a better alternative for those men and women who would otherwise continue to smoke. To be clear, these products are not risk-free. The best choice is never to start smoking or to quit tobacco and nicotine altogether. But for those adults who would otherwise continue to smoke, scientifically validated, smoke-free products are a much better choice than cigarettes,” said Calantzopoulos.
Instead of seizing this opportunity, “political agendas and ideology are slowing progress and keeping millions of people uninformed”.
“Rather than holding an evidence-based conversation on how best to regulate these innovative products to help adult smokers leave cigarettes behind, we are often faced with an ideologically driven resistance from some public health organisations and NGOs,” he charged.
He accused these organisations of using disinformation to appear as legitimate science, punting poorly executed scientific studies with skewed results shaped by bias. This leads to misleading media headlines becoming the norm, he said.
“They put dogma before data and they expend more energy on attacking a company than on helping the human beings who should be at the centre of the debate.
“What is the result? Many adults who smoke are confused about these better alternatives and so continue to use cigarettes – the most harmful way of consuming nicotine. This is inexcusable. We must ask: ‘Who will take responsibility for denying these adults access to and accurate information about science-backed innovations? Who will be held responsible for the real-world consequences of dogmatic thinking?’” said the CEO.
In a contentious attack, he effectively compared NGOs to climate change deniers and anti-vaccine campaigners who thrive on “uncertainty, polarisation, hyperpartisanship and ideology”.
“The public has a right to decision-making and information based on science. We cannot allow politically driven, well-funded individuals to prevent the world’s citizens from learning about and accessing smart solutions. Whether we are talking about vaccines, carbon emissions or tobacco harm reduction, we need science, not rhetoric, to inform policies and regulations,” he said.
He argued that with right regulations and related information, smokers could switch out of cigarettes much faster.
“Let’s put these people – not politics – at the centre of policymaking. Science secures progress. It secures solutions. It brings hope at a time when global challenges are so great they threaten to overwhelm. We should not allow science to be politicised and polarised,” he said.