British American Tobacco believes that producing a potentially less harmful cigarette, particularly one supported by public health authorities, could contribute to reducing the net harm of tobacco use.
British American Tobacco considers the work towards developing such products as one of its priorities.
British American Tobacco also recognises how important it is to seek engagement with regulators, health authorities and other scientists to discuss which product changes would be supported by public health groups and might gain consumer acceptability, how new products may be tested, and how their attributes might be communicated to consumers.
Research over decades
Over the years, British American Tobacco has conducted a major research effort to see if cigarettes could be modified to reduce harm through cigarette design.
From the 1950s, while the academic and medical community was addressing the general health aspects of smoking, British American Tobacco's laboratories, in response to the emerging assessments of health risks, have focused on the product and particularly what could be done to it to reduce some of the risks.
Over time, British American Tobacco's scientific work has been in response to external findings, with large parts of it carried out in alliance with governments and independent scientific bodies.
Reducing specific smoke constituents
British American Tobacco's research has included investigating how specific constituents of cigarette smoke might be selectively reduced or removed, and developing innovative products including replacements for tobacco.
The benefits of reducing elements of smoke need further work and understanding. Regulatory bodies, including the World Health Organisation, are considering which constituents of smoke are most important and how they should be measured.
British American Tobacco continues actively to explore ways to reduce specific smoke constituents, while monitoring regulatory and scientific thinking and seeking to engage constructively to establish new measurement standards.
Measuring exposure to smoke and its constituents is one important step towards developing lower risk products. Another is understanding how reduced exposure might reduce harm in the human body. British American Tobacco is researching potential new tests that may be able to predict harm reduction in the human body; tests that could assess whether reduced exposure might result in actual reductions in harm.
These testing methods are still evolving and the Group's scientists are working to engage with external scientists and public health authorities to discuss them, with a view to establishing their potential.
Funding external research
British American Tobacco continues to fund independent research through the Institute for Science and Health, a not-for-profit scientific research trust, into biomarkers in the human body of exposure and harm, the toxicity of tobacco smoke constituents and tobacco harm reduction.
Lower tar products
Historically, the main modifications to cigarettes that proved acceptable to consumers, governments and health authorities have been lowering tar yields, as measured by a standardised machine method. This included introducing filtered cigarettes.
It was found that a practical and simpler way to reduce deliveries of individual smoke constituents would be to reduce smoke yields overall, with machines measuring this in a standardised way. The work, therefore, focused on using filters, ventilation and other design features to reduce tar.
In lower tar products, there has been an overall reduction in the levels of most of the constituents of concern to governments and health bodies as measured by standardised machine tests. However, many public health bodies no longer support the theory that lowering cigarette tar deliveries somewhat lowers the risks of smoking. Recent reports by the World Health Organisation and the US National Cancer Institute conclude that smoking lower tar delivery cigarettes does not reduce the risks.
While the hypothesis that reducing exposure should reduce risks remains, questions are currently being asked as to whether low tar yielding cigarettes, as measured on machines, actually result in reduced exposure when in the hands of smokers.
British American Tobacco's scientists have been developing a filter analysis technique that may help in measuring the levels that smokers draw through the filter in day to day smoking conditions. Find out more in Measuring cigarette deliveries.
Institute of Medicine report
In 2001, the Institute of Medicine (IOM), part of the US National Academy of Sciences, released a substantial report called ‘Clearing the Smoke: Assessing the science base for tobacco harm reduction’. The IOM’s work included considering potentially reduced exposure products.
While affirming that the greatest health benefit comes from not smoking, one of the report’s main conclusions was also that “For many diseases attributable to tobacco use, reducing risk of diseases by reducing exposure to tobacco toxicants is feasible”.
British American Tobacco is encouraged that the report concluded that work on potentially reduced exposure products is feasible and justifiable on public health grounds, and that the industry should be encouraged to work on reduced exposure products and be provided realistic incentives to do so.
British American Tobacco thinks it is also important to note that the IOM suggested a large research agenda to help characterise the relative risks of new tobacco products.
Find out more about the report at the IOM’s website
British American Tobacco's research into less harmful cigarettes continues, although the science is very challenging and British American Tobacco still cannot be certain about what might constitute a reduced harm cigarette. Through dialogue with public health groups and others, British American Tobacco seeks ways to characterise the relative risks of new types of tobacco products to inform its research efforts.