How much are tobacco companies really doing to support harm reduction?

Most tobacco companies are keen to be seen supporting the concept of harm reduction, especially through reduced-risk products like e-cigarettes, heat-not-burn and pouches: commercially viable ways to help reduce the health toll of tobacco, win-wins at least in theory.

But how far is their support for the idea actually having an effect on their activities right now, as well as their future direction? How much action, whether in the boardroom or out there in the marketplace, lies behind the talk?

Quantifying answers to these questions is among the goals of the Tobacco Transformation Index, a project of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (FSFW) which published its first edition in 2020 and is now approaching the second, due in September.

This second report will cover 15 major tobacco companies across 36 countries and attempt to assign numerical values to their harm-reduction contributions by scoring them in areas such as strategy, marketing, lobbying, products, sales and expenditure.

In the first edition, Swedish Match and Philip Morris International (PMI) which funds FSFW and therefore the Index got the highest marks, in case you’re wondering, with China Tobacco at the bottom. It’s difficult to imagine the broad shape of the ranking changing for 2022, but there may well be some shifts in position. We’ll see later in the year.

Right now, though, the Index team is also making some changes to its methodology and inviting public comments. Time is short – the deadline is 10th June – but the issues are precise and clear, and anyone with an interest in the big picture of harm reduction will find that they raise questions worth pondering.

Changes are proposed in three main areas:

  • Whether US traditional oral products (dip and chewing tobacco) should be considered high-risk or reduced-risk.
  • What weighting, in calculating final scores, should be given to marketing expenditure.
  • How the “transformation” of a company’s product offer is calculated; the Index proposes reducing the significance of the higher-risk-to-reduced-risk ratio, and increasing the significance of pricing.

Meanwhile, although they’re not part of the current consultation, other changes being considered for the Index will likely spark plenty more discussion in the future.

The team is looking at “factoring into company scoring external factors such as country-specific tobacco legislation”, at “reviewing how divestments should be accounted for in scoring, considering that products divested will remain available to consumers in the marketplace”, and at “assessing actual marketing compliance as well as the policies companies have in place”.

The second and third of those, in particular, might open up some cans of worms…

 Barnaby Page TobaccoIntelligence staff

Photo:  Scott Graham

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