I attended two events in London yesterday which highlight just how much the free market is leading the way in tobacco harm reduction. The first was a reception in Strangers' Dining Room in Parliament, hosted by Philip Morris International (PMI). I was pleased to see many different senior MPs in attendance, from both sides of the House of Commons, including some Ministers and former Ministers that you wouldn’t usually expect to see at a tobacco event.
That’s probably because of the big new things PMI are trying to do. For the last couple of weeks I have been evaluating PMI's new IQOS. As many reading will be aware, IQOS heats tobacco, rather than burning it, and as a result, PMI beleives that it is around 90 per cent less harmful than smoking a combustible cigarette. It has proved popular in Japan, and yesterday it went on sale in London. Anyone who doubts PMI's claims should know that they’re inviting Public Health England to check the data and come to their own conclusions as to how safe the product is, which even ASH seem to agree is a good idea. This is a wise move, as although it is insulting to say that scientists working for tobacco companies are economical with the truth when it comes to the claims that are made about new products, no-one will be able to throw that insult at scientists working for PMI.
I have been vaping for over six months and haven't smoked a cigarette in over five months. I am used to vaping and enjoy it, therefore IQOS is not aimed at me. I imagine the majority of vapers who have quit smoking completely will think the same, but there are around nine million smokers in the UK, and IQOS is designed for them, not me, and for what it's worth, I think many of those nine million smokers will switch to IQOS or something similar. It is a very good product.
After leaving Parliament, I headed to a reception organised by British American Tobacco (BAT). As part of its Vype range, BAT has just launched a new product called Pebble. You can read more about it here. Pebble is a basic vaping device, and at £17.99 for a starter kit, it is also affordable. I spoke to someone last night who had smoked a packet of cigarettes every day for over twenty years, but has in the past few weeks moved to vaping. Anyone unsure about whether vaping is for them or not can try the Pebble without feeling they have undergone open wallet surgery. I spent around £50 buying an Eleaf iStick and an Aspire Nautilus tank. I then had to buy e-liquid to put in it. I was lucky - I had Dick Puddlecote advising me. I trusted his judgement and I am very happy with the result. The majority of people don't have someone advising them. Anything that makes vaping more accessible and affordable is welcome. Pebble does this.
What makes me really happy, though, it that it is the free market offering solutions to those who want to stop smoking. Anyone who has tried to quit will tell you that it is not easy, but thanks to the innovation of companies both large and small, it is now much easier. The sheer range of devices and juices on the market is breathtaking, and it is because of competition that innovation takes place. The state would have wasted billions of taxpayer pounds on pestering smokers to quit, but companies like these innovate and instead invest billions of their own money in giving smokers a real choice to quit.
That's the good news, but we all know that the bad news is because of excessive and pointless regulations from the European Union's Tobacco Products Directive, the innovation I have spoken about is being slowly strangled. Ministers really do have to act and rid us of this harmful noose around the vaping/tobacco harm reduction industry's neck. The other black cloud in the sky is the World Health Organisation (WHO) that would like to ban vaping completely. Thankfully, WHO didn't get its way at the recent COP7 conference in India, but don't expect WHO to go away anytime soon. The war is far from over.