January 26, 2014

Stanton A. Glantz, PhD

More evidence that Big Tobacco "harm reduction" efforts are designed to protect cigarette sales

Silvy Petters and Anna Gilmore have published another excellent paper on how the tobacco companies work to manipulate the policy environment, "Understanding the emergence of the tobacco industry's use of the term tobacco harm reduction in order to inform public health policy," in Tobacco Control.  Here is the abstract:

Objectives To explore the history of transnational tobacco companies’ use of the term, approach to and perceived benefits of ‘harm reduction’.

Methods Analysis of internal tobacco industry documents, contemporary tobacco industry literature and 6 semistructured interviews.

Results The 2001 Institute of Medicine report on tobacco harm reduction appears to have been pivotal in shaping industry discourse. Documents suggest British American Tobacco and Philip Morris International adopted the term ‘harm reduction’ from Institute of Medicine, then proceeded to heavily emphasise the term in their corporate messaging. Documents and interviews suggest harm reduction offered the tobacco industry two main benefits: an opportunity to (re-) establish dialogue with and access to policy makers, scientists and public health groups and to secure reputational benefits via an emerging corporate social responsibility agenda.

Conclusions Transnational tobacco companies’ harm reduction discourse should be seen as opportunistic tactical adaptation to policy change rather than a genuine commitment to harm reduction. Care should be taken that this does not undermine gains hitherto secured in efforts to reduce the ability of the tobacco industry to inappropriately influence policy.

In the Discussion they make the important point that these efforts are not made to enhance public health or actually reduce the harm their product cause, but rather to maintain the cigarette market:

Our findings are consistent with previous research showing that the TTCs saw HR as a means of improving their corporate reputation to regain access to regulators and, with that, influence over tobacco control policy.93 ,96 Both support our earlier work16 which also challenges TTCs’ purported commitment to harm reduction by demonstrating that TTCs’ interest and investments in SLT in Europe were defensive and originated from a desire to generate new tobacco sales ‘without cannibalising existing profits from cigarettes’,104 rather than a desire to reduce harm from tobacco. [emphasis added; citations deleted]

This paper complements our paper, published last year in PLoS Medicine, documenting how the tobacco companies worked to influence the IOM report and then capitalize on its contents.  These two papers, taken together, provide yet another example of the tobacco companies' willingness to think in the long term when working to manipulate the policy environment. 
Officials at regulatory bodies like the FDA as well as policymakers considering whether it make sense to move forward with the Trans Pacific Partnership (and the pending Trans Atlantic Partnership) trade agreement without direct and explicit protections for public health need to be particularly aware of the industry's successes on long-run manipulation of the policy environment to the detriment of public health.
And, of course, it applies to e-cigs in spades.

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