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Harm reduction

What is harm reduction?

In the world of public health, harm reduction is about developing policies to try and minimise the negative health impact of a risky activity without stopping it entirely.

For example, advocating the use of condoms reduces the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. For tobacco, this means offering less risky alternatives to regular cigarettes for those smokers who cannot, or choose not to, give up.

Advocating harm reduction as the way forward

The idea of tobacco harm reduction is not a new one and it has been a strategic priority for BAT for many years. We’ve long promoted snus, a type of low toxicant oral tobacco, which is a proven reduced risk product – but it lacks wide consumer appeal and availability globally. So it’s only relatively recently – with the rise in popularity of products such as Vapour Products (e-cigarettes) – that harm reduction has moved from a concept to a global reality.

An independent evidence review by Public Health England, concluded that 'the current expert estimate is that using e-cigarettes is around 95% safer than smoking'."
E-cigarettes: an evidence update, Public Health England, August 2015.

An increasing number in the scientific and public health community are now advocating harm reduction as the way forward for helping the one billion people worldwide who continue to smoke despite the known health risks.

In practice, this could mean that as well as traditional ‘stop smoking’ health services, smokers who’ve been unable to quit are encouraged to switch to less risky alternatives.

However, currently only a few governments actively support this approach. There are some public health experts and organisations with concerns that not enough is known yet about the health risks of Vapour Products (e-cigarettes) and that they could undermine efforts to denormalise tobacco use. They are also suspicious of the tobacco industry’s involvement in tobacco harm reduction. For example, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has stated that the industry “can never be considered to be a legitimate public health partner or stakeholder.” 1

Our approach

We believe there are credible less risky alternatives to regular cigarettes to address the public health impact of smoking.

We’ve spent decades researching how to create less risky products and we believe now the technology is right and we can now offer a satisfying quality, potentially less risky alternatives to traditional cigarettes for those adult smokers who want more choice.

For society, less risky alternatives have the potential to reduce smoking-related disease, while also being an area of commercial growth for our business.

We are investing in a pipeline of high-quality Next Generation Products to give consumers a choice of potentially less risky alternatives to smoking.

We’re working with scientists and regulators to promote this next generation of products and advocate a regulatory approach that puts consumer safety and product quality first, while encouraging the growth of products that could help smokers cut down or quit.

Transparency and world-class science

BAT is committed to exemplary corporate conduct and transparency across the whole business – this includes our research and development.

Being transparent about our science is central to our approach. We publish details of our scientific research programs on our dedicated website, www.bat-science.com  , submit the results of studies to peer-reviewed journals and present widely at leading international conferences and events.

We have state-of-the-art R&D facilities and hundreds of scientists covering many different disciplines, and we work in collaboration with external researchers around the world, such as in the USA, Canada, Spain, Germany, China and Russia.

The future

We understand that harm reduction is a contentious topic where opinion is often divided, and that some people are sceptical about our motivations.

We hope that our actions will demonstrate our continued commitment to harm reduction and that governments will carefully consider the potential benefits it can bring as part of a progressive approach to public health policy.

Click here for all details regarding the health spectrum of harm reduction. 

  1. Electronic nicotine delivery systems, a report by the WHO, July 2014.

    * This is a comparison between the smoke from combusted tobacco in a standard 3R4F reference cigarette (approximately 9 mg tar), and the vapour from heated tobacco in glo, in terms of the 9 types of harmful components which the World Health Organisation recommends to reduce.