For years, young people have been rightly warned not to smoke cigarettes. With the current rapid pace of innovation in the tobacco products space today, that crucial conversation must evolve. We must be emphatic that youth should not use any nicotine-containing product. Period. Nicotine is addictive. It is not risk-free, and it poses particular risks for adolescents. I’m the CEO of Philip Morris International (PMI) and a parent. I am clear with my children: Do not use any nicotine-containing products.
In light of recent activity by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to tackle e-cigarette use by American youth, a new conversation on nicotine is needed more than ever — a conversation that must be paired with meaningful action by society.
Alongside parents, public health professionals and regulators, makers of tobacco and nicotine products must do their part. One of the most vocal members of the tobacco control community, Matthew Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, said recently “the public health impact of different products varies based on how and to whom they are marketed.” I agree.
At PMI we envision a smoke-free future — a world without cigarettes. For the hundreds of millions of men and women globally who will otherwise continue to smoke, our goal is to switch them to nicotine-containing products that are substantiated as better choices than continuing to smoke.
Globally, our innovative products are available in more than 40 countries. To be clear, we do not sell or market any tobacco or other nicotine containing products in the U.S., but we have submitted applications to the FDA seeking authorization to commercialize our electrically-heated tobacco product.
We know that great care must be taken to achieve our smoke-free goal. Youth should not become nicotine users. Former smokers and never smokers should not return to, or pick up, the tobacco or nicotine habit. The focus must be on providing better choices to the men and women who smoke today, including the 40 million Americans who do so.
We take that responsibility seriously. Our “Good Conversion Practices” serve as our bedrock for encouraging adult smokers to switch, while working to prevent unintended use in the countries where we sell innovative products that do not burn tobacco. We refuse to offer these products to people who have never smoked or those who have quit smoking. We are also clear that these products are not risk-free or a safe alternative to cigarettes. Similarly, our marketing standards are rooted in the principle that we market and sell our products only to adult smokers.
Flavored e-cigarette liquids have been named as a factor in driving youth interest in e-cigarettes. In the U.S., we have asked FDA for permission to market just three options for our heated tobacco product: a full tobacco variant and two menthol variants. These approximate to the taste and experience American smokers are accustomed to, and we believe this is vital to helping them make the switch from cigarettes.
There is a balance that must be struck. Youth should not use nicotine products. That is beyond dispute. At the same time, public policy in the U.S. recognizes the role that new tobacco and other nicotine containing products can play in helping move adult smokers away from cigarettes. Achieving this balance is absolutely necessary to realize a true public health breakthrough.
In January of this year PMI presented before a FDA public advisory committee regarding an application for our electrically heated tobacco product. We were clear that the combination of measures already applicable to our product through the Tobacco Control Act, such as advertising restrictions and post-market monitoring, can provide necessary safeguards to minimize potential unintended use. Should we receive commercial authorization from FDA, we will work with the agency to actively monitor who is using our product under well-defined research protocols, which could be applicable for other nicotine product monitoring.
At that same meeting, PMI publically committed that we will “not put a foot wrong.” That is a commitment we intend to keep.