A tobacco company that makes cigarettes just bought the first and only tobacco company on Earth that had stopped making deadly cigarettes
Geneva, Switzerland, 14 November 2022 – INNCO wishes to express its horror at the recent purchase, by Philip Morris International (PMI), of Swedish Match, the only tobacco company that has ever voluntarily quit making combustible cigarettes. INNCO, a non-profit alliance of 37 non-industry independent volunteer-led member organisations around the world, supports the rights of adult People Who Use Safer Nicotine (PWUSN) to avoid toxic forms of tobacco. INNCO members and leaders are informed ex-smokers.
To salvage something from this dumpster fire, INNCO calls upon PMI’s leadership to direct their vast marketing and distribution capacities to ensure that Swedish Match’s snus and nicotine pouch products – which do not cause cancer, heart or lung disease – are available, affordable and acceptable to all smokers in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).
Eighty percent of all smokers on Earth live in LMICs. Not surprisingly, 80% of smoking-related deaths are there too. Many of those deaths are caused by PMI’s cigarettes. PMI now claims that it wants to shift to safer nicotine alternatives. There is some evidence that is happening – their risk-reduced products are now 30% of their revenues. But, when will that be 50%? Or 100%? It is time to set targets.
INNCO calls on PMI to consider the example of pharmaceutical companies’ drug and vaccine donation programs to LMICs. PMI needs to put its money where its mouth is and donate or subsidise Swedish Match’s vastly safer nicotine alternatives so that they reach a price-point that is affordable to all smokers in LMICs.
That will save lives. If saving lives is PMI’s real goal today, that is what they should do. INNCO believes that the cost of ensuring that safer nicotine harm reduction alternatives are affordable to smokers in LMICs is a rounding error for PMI’s bean counters (though doing so will kill their main cash cow: deadly cigarettes).
PMI takes over Swedish Match – Don’t jinx this!
- Swedish Match currently sells a product made almost entirely from tobacco called ETTAN snus. ETTAN was trademarked and launched in Sweden in 1822 and has not caused a single recorded case of premature morbidity or mortality in the 200 years of uninterrupted production, sale and lifelong daily use of this product. Sweden has extraordinarily meticulous record keeping: Over 100 million user-years of observational data show no evidence of harms. A total of 8 snus products from Swedish Match were the first ever to be granted Modified Risk Tobacco Product authorization by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
- In 2019, Swedish Match was authorised by the FDA to stop lying to its customers. It can now tell them “Using [this] instead of cigarettes puts you at a lower risk of mouth cancer, heart disease, lung cancer, stroke, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis.”
- That authorization is for little tea bag-like products that actually contain cured ultra-low carcinogen tobacco leaf. Swedish match also makes a similar product that contains only harmless cellulose, nicotine and flavour. There is no biologically plausible argument that these “nicotine pouches” are any more harmful than nicotine patches and nicotine gum which are on the World Health Organization’s Essential Medicines List.
- There were 1.1 billion smokers on Earth 20 years ago, and there are 1.1 billion smokers today. INNCO notes this lack of progress. While cigarettes are, by far, the main cause of smoking-related death and disease, in some countries (especially in and around South Asia), millions of people use toxic forms of oral smokeless tobacco. According to the World Health Organization, cigarettes and these toxic smokeless products cause 8 million deaths every year. This is more than global deaths from HIV, tuberculosis and malaria combined.
- The FDA’s recent endorsement of harm reduction in the field of tobacco control does not sit well with some highly conservative health authorities including the World Health Organization (which continues to equate nicotine harm reduction with “industry interference”).
Responding to the purchase of Swedish Match, Dr. Charles A. Gardner, Executive Director of INNCO, said: “INNCO is unhappy that PMI will now absorb the one tobacco company on Earth that had voluntarily stopped making death sticks (cigarettes). We demand that PMI “Do The Right Thing” by ensuring that the safer nicotine harm reduction products it just acquired will be affordable, acceptable and available for every smoker in every low- and middle-income country on Earth. This would save tens-of-millions of lives over just the next few decades.”
Dr. Gardner added: “The WHO’s tobacco control efforts are largely funded by US billionaire Mike Bloomberg, a known harm reduction denier. This massive conflict of interest is ethically equivalent to letting an American billionaire anti-vaxxer influence the WHO’s vaccine efforts. Journalists would go nuts. An INNCO Dossier on this troubling issue is available here.”
Atakan Befrits, longtime activist, researcher and educator, co-founder New Nicotine Alliance Sweden (NNA Sweden) and INNCO, and Global Advocacy & Policy Analyst for INNCO, said: “Being Swedish and having lived-experience of quitting an extremely heavy smoking habit with Swedish Match products, honestly… I had hoped for a different outcome. Ever the optimist though, I hope the smart people in PMI and Swedish Match will do the right thing to save lives in low- and middle-income countries.
Mr. Befrits added: INNCO will stay vigilant and monitor developments. INNCO is often accused of working for big tobacco, but we don’t love the companies that addicted us to cigarettes, and we will continue to criticise them. We do love safer nicotine alternatives that helped us quit, and we know – from lived experience – how our health improved when we quit. INNCO’s Member Organizations in South Asia know very well the harms of both cigarettes and toxic forms of oral smokeless tobacco products. The marriage between a Swedish company that makes vastly safer oral smokeless products, and a big tobacco company that continues to make deadly cigarettes, creates strange bedfellows. But it could be an opportunity to kill two toxic birds with one harm reduction stone.
About us: INNCO is a global community of ex-smokers helping smokers quit, and defending the rights of 112 million People Who Use Safer Nicotine (PWUSN). Safer alternatives include nicotine patches, nicotine gum, nicotine lozenges, nicotine pouches, nicotine vapes, snus and heated tobacco products. Smokers’ access to nicotine harm reduction is both a human right and a life-or-death issue. INNCO is a non-profit alliance of 37 independent volunteer-led Member Organizations around the world. We are funded by in-kind contributions and small donations from thousands of adult ex-smokers. Our Secretariat (but not Member Organizations or Governing Board) is supported by a $0.9 million/year grant from the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (FSFW), a US nonprofit 501(c)(3) independent global organization with a mission to end smoking in this generation. FSFW accepts charitable gifts from PMI Global Services Inc. (PMI). Under FSFW’s Bylaws and Pledge Agreement with PMI, FSFW is independent from PMI and the tobacco industry. INNCO is, in turn, independent of the Foundation. We are transparent about all this. In contrast, two unaccountable foundations (Bloomberg Philanthropies and The Truth Initiative) are currently spending over $200 million/year to oppose nicotine harm reduction. And their grantees never declare this for what it is: An obvious Conflict of Interest.