Tobacco ban is missed opportunity to create smoke-free SA - PMSA

Philip Morris International has launched the most advanced version of its innovative, smoke-free product, IQOS in South Africa. Photo: Supplied

Philip Morris International has launched the most advanced version of its innovative, smoke-free product, IQOS in South Africa. Photo: Supplied

Published Jul 24, 2020


Philip Morris South Africa (PMSA) has slammed the continued ban on the sale of tobacco products and e-cigarettes during the lockdown as “a missed opportunity to make smoke-free alternatives available for 11-million South African smokers.”

“The blanket ban on all tobacco and e-cigarette products undermines the efforts of those adult smokers who switched to better alternatives, such as heated tobacco products and e-cigarettes. It also misses a huge opportunity to encourage all adult South Africans who would otherwise continue smoking to switch to smoke-free alternatives,” said Marcelo Nico, MD of Philip Morris South Africa.

Science and technology have enabled better alternatives to continued smoking. “While scientifically substantiated smoke-free products are not risk-free and they contain nicotine, which is addictive, they are a much better choice than continued smoking,” said Nico.

In a landmark decision on 7 July, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorised the marketing in the US of the IQOS system as a modified risk tobacco product (MRTP) with reduced exposure information. IQOS is Philip Morris International’s (PMI) electrically heated tobacco system.

After completing a review of PMI’s extensive scientific evidence package and independent studies, the FDA found that issuing an exposure modification order for IQOS is appropriate to promote the public health and is expected to benefit the health of the population as a whole, taking into account both users and nonusers of tobacco products. This authorises PMI to market IQOS in the United States with the following reduced exposure information:

The IQOS system heats tobacco but does not burn it.

This significantly reduces the production of harmful and potentially harmful chemicals.

Scientific studies have shown that switching completely from conventional cigarettes to the IQOS system significantly reduces your body’s exposure to harmful or potentially harmful chemicals.

Importantly, the FDA’s exposure modification order does not mean that IQOS is FDA “approved” as the FDA authorizes, but does not approve, tobacco products. IQOS is not risk-free. It delivers nicotine, which is addictive.

As of June 30, 2020, Phillip Morris International estimates that approximately 11.2 million adult smokers around the world have already stopped smoking and switched to PMI's heat-not-burn product, available for sale in 57 markets in key cities or nationwide under the IQOS brand. IQOS has been available in South Africa since 2017. However, the product is not available for sale at the moment due to the continued ban on the sale of all tobacco products and e-cigarettes during the South African lockdown.

Evidence shows that enabling access to smoke-free alternatives is a powerful way to reduce smoking rates. A study by authors from the Medical University of South Carolina and the University of Ottawa demonstrated that an accelerated decline in cigarette sales since 2016 in Japan corresponds to the introduction and growth in the sales of heated tobacco products.

Regarding the ban, a second report from a study conducted by the Research Unit on the Economics of Excisable Products (REEP), an independent research unit based at the University of Cape Town entitled, “Smoking and Quitting Behaviour in Lockdown South Africa”, which yielded 23,631 usable responses, concludes that the ban should be lifted, as “it continues to fail in what it is supposed to do”.

The study indicates that for respondents that continue to smoke, 93% of smokers surveyed continued buying cigarettes despite the ban (up from 91% in the first survey), and more smokers (26% up from 18%) now report having ever shared cigarettes, something the ban was supposed to prevent. The authors cautioned that they do not claim the data collected is nationally representative, but rather reports on the characteristics of the sample collected as opposed to the South African smoking population.

The authors state: “In our first report we argued that, although well-intentioned at the outset, the extension of the cigarette sales ban into lockdown Level 4 was an error. Based on the results of the second survey, we believe that the further extension of the sales ban, into lockdown Level 3, amplified the error.”

Moreover, according to Tax Justice South Africa the government loses R35 million per day in excise taxes as a result of the ban. If the fiscal loss is not worrying enough, criminal networks are reportedly thriving, making up to R3 billion a month on tobacco since the start of the lockdown, at the expense of legitimate farmers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers.

“We support the government’s intentions to combat the spread of COVID-19, and we would welcome a discussion with government on how to facilitate suitable access to legal tobacco products at this time, including to scientifically substantiated smoke-free products,” says Nico.


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