Industry arguments to support harm reduction products

Big Tobacco’s new rhetoric states that cigarettes are harmful and it wants to reduce health risks from smoking. Hence, by selling so-called “less harmful” tobacco products and encouraging smokers to switch to these alternatives[1] [2] [3] it claims that it should be allowed to join the public health community and be a part of the solution to the tobacco epidemic. Big Tobacco has been aggressively promoting electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), commonly referred to as e-cigarettes, and heated tobacco products (HTP), which both contain nicotine and are addictive. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), all forms of tobacco use are harmful—including HTP—because tobacco is inherently toxic and contains carcinogens even in its natural form. Currently, the WHO states that there is no evidence to demonstrate that ENDS and HTP are less harmful than conventional tobacco products and conclusions cannot yet be drawn about their ability to assist in quitting smoking.[4] [5]

*This paragraph is excerpted from the report Big Tobacco’s smoke-free deception: Tobacco trademarks in ASEAN countries uncover the truth

The tobacco and nicotine industries work strategically to delay and defeat policy measures across the globe in order to promote and protect the profitability of their business, employing various tactics that interfere with government efforts to protect public health,[6] such as news interviews and articles, social media adverts, lobbying policy makers, and presentations in international conferences.

Appearing to come from various sectors to create a perception of diversity and legitimacy, ENDS and HTP proponents sing the same misinformed tune to governments and policymakers — that ENDS and HTPs are safer alternatives to conventional cigarettes, can help smokers stop smoking, and therefore should be allowed and regulated, rather than banned. As such, they attack governments like Singapore and Thailand that have a ban on ENDS and HTPs and aggressively promote these products in countries without such a ban or where regulatory frameworks are still weak as in IndonesiaPhilippines, and Vietnam. They also promote ENDS and HTPs as an economic investment opportunity for countries.

A known tobacco industry strategy to mislead the public about the harms of ENDS and HTPs is to speak through academics. Since 2018, the PMI-funded Foundation for a Smoke-free World (FSFW) has been funding the establishment of multiple research centers to support tobacco harm reduction globally.[7] Accepting tobacco industry money for research was widely accepted until the 1990s, but revelations about the way the industry manipulated research data, hid smoking risks from the public, and used science to sow confusion and doubts (which prevented effective tobacco control policies) made such funding increasingly taboo for academics.[8]  By funding research into “reduced risk” tobacco products as it has done for cigarettes, the industry hopes to influence how ENDS and HTPs — still unrestricted in many countries — will be regulated in the future.[9] 

Figure 1 presents categories of ENDS and HTPs proponents in ASEAN and their messages to support their cause. The Policy Dystopia Model.[10]  was used to categorize and analyze information collated from daily media monitoring from Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, with additional information from Malaysia, between January and September 2019.

Manufacturers of ENDS and HTPS (click here)

*This article is excerpted from the report Today’s teens, Tomorrow’s customers: Baiting youths with new tobacco products to create a new generation of addicts

[1] Kolandai, M. (2019). Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index. Global Center for Good Governance in Tobacco Control (GGTC). Bangkok, Thailand.
[2] Tobaccotactics. (2020). Foundation for a Smoke-free World Centres of Excellence, Tobaccotactics [online].
[3] Enserink, M. (2018). Big Tobacco’S Offer: $1 Billion For Research. Should Scientists Take It? Science [online].
[4] WHO Framework on Tobacco Control. (2017) FCTC Convention Secretariat’s statement on the launch of the FSFW, [online].
[5] Ulucanlar S, Fooks GJ, Gilmore AB (2016) The Policy Dystopia Model: An Interpretive Analysis of Tobacco Industry Political Activity. PLoS Med 13(9): e1002125.
[6] Philip Morris International website. Philip Morris Japan Ltd. Accessed 26 Aug 2019. Available at: https://
[7] British American Tobacco. Understanding the relative risks of our products, Accessed 26 Aug 2019. Available at:
[8] Japan Tobacco International. Reduced risk products, Accessed 26 Aug 2019. Available at:
[9] World Health Organization. World Health Organization. 2018. Heated tobacco products (HTP) [information sheet], May 2018. Available at:
[10] World Health Organization. (2019). WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2019. Geneva: World Health Organization