Author: Dana McCauley, Brisbane Times (February 16, 2020) Download
Doctors are fighting an application by global tobacco giant Philip Morris International to sell its “heat not burn” products in Australia, warning there is “no evidence” the product is any safer than smoking cigarettes.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and Australian Medical Association have written to the Therapeutic Goods Administration, asking the regulator to reject the application until the health impacts have been properly studied.
“Claims that heat not burn products pose a lower risk to health due to their milder exposure to toxicants have recently been refuted,” college president Harry Nespolon said in a letter to the regulator, seen by the Herald and The Age.
Dr Nespolon said the company’s assertion that its new product was safe bore “similarities to earlier, and now illegal marketing campaigns by tobacco companies that promoted light and mild cigarettes and, filtered and low-tar cigarettes, as posing a lower health risk”.
The college called on the regulator to reject the application and take “a protective and precautionary approach” until “credible and long-term evidence” was gathered on the health impacts of heated tobacco products.
AMA president Tony Bartone said the application by Philip Morris was an attempt to “increase the lifespan of tobacco” as an industry, through “the glamourisation of smoking”.
The medical association wrote to the regulator this month to say it “vehemently opposes” the proposal to change the rules to allow heated tobacco products to be sold, saying the company’s claim that they were “less risky” than smoking cigarettes – or effective at helping smokers quit – was incorrect.
“The highly addictive quality of nicotine makes it difficult for smokers to quit,” the association’s submission said. “The tobacco industry does not consider their customer’s health a priority.”
There were also concerns chemicals within heated tobacco products may have adverse health effects, with “more than 20 harmful or potentially harmful chemicals identified in higher quantities than cigarette smoke,” the submission said.
Philip Morris lodged an application with the regulator in November, calling for the legalisation of all heated tobacco products – which the company claims is part of its mission to “change society and deliver a better, smoke-free future”.
The company argues that heated tobacco products are a “less harmful alternative” to cigarettes and the ban on their sale in Australia, enshrined in the Australian Commonwealth Poisons Standard, is hampering efforts to reduce smoking.
Public health experts have criticised Philip Morrison International’s claimed “smoke-free” vision, pointing at the company’s resistance to anti-smoking efforts in south-east Asia, where tobacco advertising is legal and smoking rates are high.
A Philip Morris spokesman said its application was based on “a comprehensive scientific assessment demonstrating how heated tobacco products produce fewer and/or lower levels of toxic chemicals than cigarettes”.
“Burning tobacco generates the vast majority of toxicants found in cigarette smoke that are associated with smoking-related diseases,” the spokesman said.
“Smokers who switch … can significantly reduce their exposure to many of the toxic chemicals found in cigarette smoke.”
The college last month released an updated guide for GPs helping patients to quit smoking, cautiously recommending the use of liquid nicotine-based e-cigarettes as a potential second-line aid, calling for a widening of prescribing options for nicotine replacement therapies – a position that puts it at odds with the medical association.
At the COAG Health Council meeting in Perth two weeks ago, Commonwealth and state and territory health ministers tasked their chief medical officers with reviewing the safety of non-nicotine vaping and e-cigarettes.
The federal government has set a target of reducing smoking rates to 10 per cent by 2025.
Health Minister Greg Hunt is an outspoken opponent of vaping, having repeatedly cited concerns about its respiratory effects after a string of deaths in the United States.
Shortly after Philip Morris lodged its application, he said: “Vaping of any form can be an on-ramp to smoking or to nicotine use.”
Opposition health spokesman Chris Bowen said while Labor “respects the TGA’s independence and decision on this matter”, it should take “the best clinical advice from Australia’s medical experts” while weighing up the application.
An interim decision from the regulator is expected in June 2020.