Below is our recent interview with Peter Luongo, Managing Director, Rothmans, Benson and Hedges.
Q: What is the Know Your Right campaign and why have you launched it?
A: ‘Your Right to Know’ is an advocacy initiative led by Rothmans, Benson and Hedges Inc. It is born from the idea that Canadians have a right to know about smoke-free alternatives.
New laws will make it more difficult for Canadians to get factual information about smoke-free alternatives that have the potential to be less harmful than continuing to smoke. In fact, new laws will prohibit the sharing of scientifically-sustained information about these products with adult smokers.
We want to create an open dialogue around smoke-free alternatives. Consumers should have the ability to access information so they can make an informed decision.
Q: Why do you think the Government would prevent Canadians from knowing their options?
A: It’s hard to imagine that the objective of the Canadian government is to restrict the sharing of information or prevent Canadians from making an informed choice about their health. The speed of technological advances outpaces regulations, and we hope Canadian regulators recognize this and support a modern approach to tobacco control that reflects the state of the science, the advances in technology and the wants of consumers today.
Q: Ottawa has passed Bill S-5. What exactly impacts your ability to tell consumers about smoke-free alternatives in Bill S-5?
A: Fundamentally, under Bill S-5 it would be illegal for us to provide consumers with any comparative information about heated tobacco products that could imply a difference in health risks.
Bill S-5 does not allow for the communication of factual, scientifically substantiated information regarding the relative levels of harm of smoke-free tobacco products compared to conventional tobacco products, such as cigarettes.
Q: How will Bill S-5 impact your business?
A: Bill S-5 will make it difficult for consumers to get factual information about new heated tobacco products which are potentially less harmful than cigarettes. In fact, it prohibits us from giving consumers scientifically substantiated information.
Under the Bill, heated tobacco products will be treated the same as cigarettes – giving smokers the impression that they are the same when it comes to comparing the level of relative risk.
This means, products that have been scientifically substantiated as a better choice than continued smoking will be positioned to consumers like they are the same as cigarettes – which is incredibly misleading.
Q: Is there smoker demand for alternatives?
A: Yes. Many smokers are looking for reduced risks alternatives to cigarettes. The recent growth in the e-cigarette market is evidence of this demand.
To achieve true risk reduction and public health benefits for the expected 1 billion smokers around the world and 4 million Canadians, user acceptance is required. If smokers simply go back to traditional burned cigarettes there is no gain in terms of reducing the health risk. With more than 5 million IQOS users worldwide, we feel that we’re on the right path. We’re not saying this is risk free – the best thing smokers can do is quit. But, for those Canadians who would otherwise continue smoking, switching completely to a smoke-free alternative is a better choice.
Q: Isn’t this just a ploy by Big Tobacco to attract new smokers and make more money? How can we believe what you are saying?
A: We acknowledge that many may be skeptical. We are taking a very open approach to this by sharing the science and looking for it to be peer reviewed and are open to scrutiny.
We purposely attached the Rothmans, Benson and Hedges name to our consumer advocacy campaign so the public knows we are serious about their options and our willingness to engage on this topic.
The reality is that there are around 4 million smokers in Canada who deserve better options to smoking cigarettes.
We believe it is time, in interest of all adult smokers and the public health community, to understand the science and technology behind smoke-free alternatives and adopt a more flexible framework in which these products can be validated and then communicated to consumers.
Every single adult smoker who is looking for potentially less harmful alternatives, should have information on these products and need to know they exist.
Q: If what you are saying is true, then why don’t you just stop selling cigarettes today?
A: Discontinuing sales of our cigarettes in isolation (without any public awareness or understanding about smoke-free products) would simply result in competitors filing the market space or consumers moving to the illicit market.
We are committed to a smoke-free future and our ultimate goal is to eventually phase out cigarettes, switching existing smokers, who would otherwise continue smoking, to smoke-free products as soon as possible. This is a big change, it’s the transformation of the tobacco industry and how quickly we transform will depend on our ability to market and sell a potentially reduced risk product in Canada.
It’s a massive undertaking and we can’t do it alone. We need the help of government, regulators and the scientific community.
Q: What do you say to those critics who are concerned that products like these will just encourage people to continue using nicotine or tobacco?
A: Evidence shows the contrary – those who take up e-cigarettes and other smoke-free alternatives like IQOS are virtually all current smokers, as seen through research conducted by, for example, the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies.
Our target market for smoke-free alternatives and our range of smoke-free products are for smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke. Smoking rates are on a slow decline in Canada, meaning many smokers continue to smoke. We could have a big impact on public health by allowing us to encourage smokers to switch to products that are likely less harmful for them, such as heat not burn products and e-cigarettes.