Greece among the countries with the highest smoking rates in the world
Despite the indoor smoking ban, Greece remains among the countries with the highest smoking rates in the world, although there has been a significant decrease from a few years ago, said the chief executive of tobacco giant Philip Morris International, Jacek Olczak, in Kathimerini. in an interview.
Olczak says the ideal for smokers, more than a billion worldwide, would be to quit completely, but as indications so far show they won’t, the “most approach pragmatic” is to use products that eliminate combustion, such as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products.
He acknowledges that these products “are not without risk and are addictive”, but says they are a “much better choice” compared to continued smoking and traditional cigarettes. Specifically for the IQOS heated tobacco product, used by 21 million people worldwide and 360,000 in Greece, average levels of harmful chemicals are reduced by up to 95%.
He also believes that in addition to existing efforts to prevent people from starting to smoke and to help them quit, providing smoke-free alternatives to adults who choose to continue smoking can also have a positive impact on public health. In this context, he calls on authorities, policy makers and public health groups to act accordingly.
Let me take advantage of this discussion with the CEO of a leading global player in the industry to ask a simple question: Why should nicotine use, in all its forms, continue?
The best thing smokers can do is quit smoking altogether, but the reality is that many don’t. It is estimated that there are over a billion smokers today, and the World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that there will still be over a billion smokers by 2025. These people deserve a pragmatic approach and a sensible solution that moves them away from cigarettes, one of the most harmful forms of nicotine consumption. Today, this solution exists. The vast majority of harmful compounds found in cigarette smoke and associated with smoking-related diseases are generated by combustion. Products that eliminate combustion, such as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products, are a much better alternative to continued smoking. Harnessing science and technological innovation – such as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products, which have the potential to reduce the harm caused by smoking – is the public health opportunity of this century. At Philip Morris International (PMI), we have been focused on the development, scientific substantiation and responsible marketing of smokeless products that are less harmful than smoking, with the goal of completely replacing cigarettes as soon as possible.
Health-wise, how less harmful are the alternatives you create compared to cigarettes? Aren’t they still harmful?
The high levels of harmful compounds found in cigarette smoke and associated with smoking-related diseases are primarily generated by combustion. Products that eliminate combustion, such as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products, significantly reduce average levels of these harmful chemicals compared to cigarettes, up to 95% in the case of our IQOS heated tobacco. These products are not without risk and are addictive, but they are a much better choice than continuing to smoke.
Has the pandemic impacted the industry in general, and PMI in particular, and how?
If we have learned anything during this pandemic, I hope it is that science, innovation and inclusion must be respected. It will require everyone – from policy makers to people on the street – to prioritize solutions to outdated dogmas. Then we can have a solid platform to build a better future for all, faster. Ignoring science and innovation will only hinder progress towards a better society. Unlike the climate crisis – where we are still trying to understand and use all the science and tools needed to move towards carbon neutrality – we already have what it takes to become smoke-free today.
“We still have a long way to go to convince people to put out that last cigarette, forever, everywhere”
How successful is the ban on smoking in restaurants, bars and other public places in Greece, and is there a correlation with an increase in IQOS usage?
Enforcement of the anti-tobacco law banning all nicotine products has been widely accepted in Greek society. Ashtrays have become obsolete in restaurants and bars, and now you can drink and dine smoke-free as a rule. However, we still have a long way to go to convince people to put out that last cigarette, forever, everywhere. We should therefore encourage progressive policies, like the one adopted in Greece, which differentiate products that burn from products that do not burn and which are a much better choice; and encourage those who would continue to smoke to switch to these better alternatives. With the growth of IQOS consumers and its geographical presence, we are very happy that so many Greek consumers are turning to this much better alternative and quitting smoking.
Yet, the smoking rate in Greece remains quite high. Where does Greece stand globally?
It is true that Greece is one of the countries where the smoking rate is the highest. And that’s even after the indoor smoking ban was put in place. That said, however, it’s worth noting that – thanks in part to the indoor ban – the smoking rate has almost halved from a few years ago. Either way, the challenge remains for all of us to do our best to inform and educate every smoker to quit as soon as possible. And for those who choose not to, we need to be sure that they are able to make an informed decision to move on to better alternatives that science and technology can now provide.
What is the percentage of people switching from cigarettes to smokeless alternatives, and how is the trend developing globally and in Greece?
At the end of 2021, we estimate there were 21.2 million total IQOS users, of which 72% – or 15.3 million IQOS users – had switched to IQOS and quit smoking, the rest being in various stages of conversion. This is a much higher conversion rate than seen for other smoke-free products around the world. Since its launch in 2016, the number of adult smokers in Greece who have made informed choices by switching to IQOS and quitting smoking continues to grow. Today, there are over 360,000 IQOS users in the country.
You talk about the goal of quitting smoking. When do you foresee the end of all production and distribution of cigarettes?
As we move toward our bold vision of a smoke-free future, we have set an ambitious goal: we aim to have at least 40 million current adult smokers switch to our smoke-free products by 2025. PMI is also d ‘huge progress towards becoming a primarily smoke-free company by 2025, i.e. the share of net revenue from reduced risk products (RRPs), a milestone we have already achieved in 10 markets. In Greece, 65% of total net income comes from smoke-free alternatives. But we can’t do it alone. As we bring our vision of a smoke-free future to life, we look forward to seeing measures introduced that lead to large-scale change as quickly as possible. We are confident that the right combination of government leadership and business initiative will dramatically accelerate efforts to reduce tobacco use. We believe that with the right regulatory encouragement and support from civil society, cigarette sales can end within 10 to 15 years in many countries.
How are tax regulations and policies changing the landscape in terms of moving societies away from smoking?
Providing smoke-free alternatives to adult smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke can have a positive impact on public health. We believe that, in addition to existing efforts to prevent smoking initiation and encourage smoking cessation, this approach is the right one and should be championed by regulators, policymakers and public health groups. Regulations should continue to deter people from starting to smoke and encourage quitting. They must be proportionate to the risks and follow a common-sense approach: the most harmful product, cigarettes, must be subject to the most restrictive regulations. In addition, regulation should also ensure that any commercially available smokeless product meets specific quality and performance standards, and that strong scientific evidence demonstrates their reduced risk profile.
Recently, you announced your intention to expand into the areas of wellness and health. What do you mean when you say you want to address “unmet patient and consumer needs”?
This is a natural evolution for PMI to further transform our business into a broader lifestyle, consumer wellness and healthcare business in the future. This is an evolution that will not only realize our continued commitment to achieving a smoke-free future, but also the development and commercialization of scientifically proven products and solutions that address unmet consumer and patient needs. The market for wellness and healthcare products is large and growing. We have several focus areas in our pipeline. For consumer and over-the-counter wellness products, we have several initiatives focusing on focus, sleep, energy, pain, and calm. In healthcare, we believe there are significant unmet patient needs for timely and effective treatments in cardiovascular, such as myocardial infarction, and neurological, such as migraine, that can be met. through innovative solutions. We recently accelerated this part of our strategy with the acquisition of Vectura, a provider of innovative inhaled drug delivery solutions, and Fertin, a leading developer and manufacturer of innovative pharmaceutical and wellness products based on oral and intra-oral delivery systems. .