Tobacco Harm Reduction Journalists Forum Revived

A Journalists platform comprising of media practitioners from East, West and Southern Africa whose purpose is to enhance coverage of alternative smoke free and non-combustive tobacco products has been revived after a two year hiatus.

By Michael Gwarisa

The Tobacco Harm Reduction media forum was formed in November 2017 at Enashipai Resort, in Naivasha, Kenya through support from Phillip Morris International (PMI) a leading producer of tobacco and smoke free products.

Since 2017, Barnabas Tondhlana, a seasoned Journalist and Publisher from Zimbabwe co-chaired the forum with David Ohito, a Kenyan based Digital Media consultant. The group initially consisted of over 60 journalists drawn from Nigeria, Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe but plans are under way to rope in more voices and increases coverage of the Tobacco Reduction subject.

Speaking during a virtual re-launch of the forum, Dr Tendai Mhizha a leading strategist and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Integra Africa said, “…the revival of the forum has come at the right time and would rejuvenate interest in Journalists around the subject of tobacco harm reduction.”

Phillip Morris International (PMI) Director External Affairs, Harouna LY said Journalists had the power to influence perception and their role in promoting tobacco harm reduction cannot be overemphasized.

Today we are at a turning point in terms of offering alternatives that we believe that have been confirmed by science. What I expect from you as journalists is to take this information, to cross check it and to also look at other sources of information and be able to authenticate it. Your capacity as Journalists is important to bring basically the information to the society. I do hope that this is a starting point of an ongoing discussion that we will try and have so that we maintain and nurture the discussion around Tobacco harm reduction,” said Harouna.

PMI has been leading the production and distribution of Heated Tobacco Products (HTP) over the years with the aim of reducing the harm associated with smoking combustive cigarettes. HTPs are smoke-free products that heat tobacco instead of burning it. This is the initial and important difference between them and cigarettes. Most HTPs (not all) are electronic and include temperature controls. The exact temperature to which the tobacco is heated to varies from product to product. The important thing is that HTPs avoid reaching temperatures at which the tobacco burns.

Ignacio Gonzalez, the Head of Regional Scientific Engagement MEA (Director) at Philip Morris International said in as much as PMI was known as a tobacco company, it was undergoing massive transformation with the aim of convincing adult smokers to switch to smoke free products

“In other words, we are a tobacco company that wants to make cigarettes a thing of the past, something that is obsolete, something that you will see in a museum. We are doing everything that we can, we are putting our resources to make this vision a reality as soon as possible.

“You may ask yourself why a tobacco company would do that. We have very good reasons. Firstly, the science is very clear that smoking is harmful and it increases the risk of serious diseases of the lungs, cancer etc. Science is also very clear that the best thing that one can do to reduce the risk of smoking related diseases is to stop o quit smoking and better yet, not to even start,” said Gonzalez.

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