The proposed Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill, currently open for public comment, seeks to limit the marketing and information that retailers can give to customers around reduced risk products, such as e-cigarettes and heat-not-burn technologies.
This will prevent converting millions of smokers to alternative products and thwart the opportunity to save lives.
Since reduced risk products such as e-cigarettes, vaporisers and heat-not-burn technologies such as IQOS have hit the market, sales of traditional cigarettes have been steadily declining at our 13 specialist JJ Cale tobacconist stores.
From our interactions with customers, we’ve found that most smokers actually want to quit, but they’ve become dependent on the nicotine or the behavioural aspects of smoking – the taste, flavours and sensory satisfaction they get from inhaling smoke from a cigarette.
The success of many of these reduced risk products lies in the fact that they hit the ‘sweet spot’ for many users.
They combine many of the characteristics of smoking, but without its harmful side-effects.
Designing a product that is appealing to consumers is complex – not only must it be attractive from a cost perspective, but it must be easy to use and accessible.
These reduced risk products offer appealing flavours, efficient delivery and lower cost compared to cigarettes.
They also help people to quit smoking – smokers who use reduced risk products are far more likely to quit smoking cigarettes over the longer term.
Yet despite plenty of research showing that reduced risk products are far less (up to 95%) harmful than conventional cigarettes, there is confusion and scepticism about benefits of switching.
The bill, by clamping down on the ability of manufacturers and retailers to provide useful and truthful health information about their products to customers, will only continue to reinforce the dominance of cigarettes and deprive people of the opportunity to switch to less harmful alternatives.
Up until now, by allowing different manufacturers to market their products to potential customers, it has led to vibrant competition between brands and devices.
This has driven innovation, with continuous improvements in technology and quality of reduced risk products over the past decade to the point where they now have mass appeal.
This highly competitive operating environment has also driven down prices for consumers relative to traditional cigarettes and made the devices more accessible to many more users.
There are better ways to stop young people taking up the habit than repressive point-of-sale restrictions on information and marketing.
In our business, we don’t sell to under 18s. As growth in the sale of reduced risk products increases, so smoking rates tend to decline.
Research also shows that e-cigarette use by young people consists largely of experimentation and not long-term adoption and most use e-cigarettes with different flavours, but without the nicotine.
Clearly there needs to be an appropriate balance between product safety, consumer appeal and regulations targeted specifically to decrease the use of conventional, combusted tobacco products, but a pragmatic approach that can complement this will help government to achieve its objectives of reducing smoking rates and preventing non-communicable diseases.
This should be premised on giving consumers more information, rather than less, about the comparative risks of different products.
The new bill needs to treat reduced risk products differently to conventional smoking and combustible tobacco.
If not, it will only serve to limit the opportunity to minimise harm and save lives.
• Warren Dreyer is the owner of JJ Cale Tobacconists.