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Making a meaningful contribution to tobacco harm reduction

Our consumer-led approach to developing next generation products has the potential to improve the health of millions of smokers around the world, explains Group Science & Regulatory Affairs Director Joe Thompson.

Why is consumer health important to Imperial? 

Imperial is undergoing an exciting transformation, with consumer health a key part of our ambition.

More than a billion adults smoke globally. We understand society’s concerns about the health risks of smoking, and as a responsible business we also recognise our role in helping to potentially reduce smoking-related harm. 

How is the public health concept of tobacco harm reduction playing a role? 

Harm reduction involves taking mitigating action to reduce the potential harm associated with a risky behaviour – for instance, using a seatbelt when driving a car or putting on sun cream before going to the beach.

Tobacco harm reduction works on the same principle. 

In the past, nicotine was usually consumed through the burning of tobacco. Alongside nicotine, cigarette smoke also contains hundreds of harmful chemicals – the cause of serious disease in smokers. 

The best course of action that adult smokers can take to improve their health is not to use any tobacco or nicotine product. However, millions are either uninterested or unwilling to take this step.

That’s where next generation products (NGP) come in. 

Created though recent advances in technology and innovation, they are designed to meet the complex needs of consumers, including the delivery of nicotine, without harmful tobacco combustion. 

We’re firm believers in consumer choice, so our portfolio includes the Pulze+iD heated tobacco system, blu vapes and Zone X tobacco-free oral nicotine pouches.

Currently, not all regulators necessarily endorse tobacco harm reduction though... 

The long-term evidence is only slowly beginning to emerge, but the early signs build confidence that tobacco harm reduction has the potential to improve the health of millions of adult smokers around the world.

In countries that have embraced harm reduction and tobacco products which don’t involve combustion – like Sweden (snus and tobacco-free oral nicotine pouches) and the UK (vaping) – it’s clear their smoking rates have dropped significantly. In time, this is likely to have a significant impact on instances of smoking-related disease and death. 

That's the amazing public health opportunity tobacco harm reduction represents, and it’s something Imperial is determined to make a meaningful contribution towards.

Isn’t there a risk these new products may also attract a new generation of nicotine consumers?

That’s a valid concern, and we recognise it’s crucial we don’t create NGP that are attractive to non-smokers, including youth. This would potentially undermine any contribution to tobacco harm reduction made by switching adult smokers.

Our entire philosophy therefore reflects a no-tolerance approach to youth access through every stage of our products’ lifecycles.

Why is it such a decisive time for these new products?

I’ve been at Imperial for over two decades and, in that time, I’ve seen this industry change beyond recognition.

Now, we’re on the cusp of a true revolution – driven by consumer demand, a better understanding of our consumers and continued NGP science and innovation.

Together, they’ve created an opportunity for Imperial to make a genuine difference to global public health through a transformational portfolio of potentially harm reduced cigarette alternatives.

It’s a pivotal and exciting time to be working in the business, and this industry.

Do we have all the answers when it comes to consumer health?

Not yet, and as a challenger business it’s important we stay humble. 

That means continuing to have fruitful conversations with regulators and public health bodies, continuing to listen to our consumers to understand their needs and gain their invaluable insights and continuing to rigorously test and validate the safety profiles and tobacco harm reduction potential of our NGP.

Simultaneously, we’re committed to working transparently, pragmatically and at pace with both in-house teams and external partners to create satisfying alternative products that further boost switching rates away from traditional cigarettes.

If we succeed, we’ll contribute to helping potentially improve the health outcomes of millions of adult smokers across the globe.

It’s a singular opportunity that’s energising us all.



We’re committed to working with both in-house teams and external partners to create satisfying alternatives to traditional cigarettes.



In countries that have embraced nicotine products which don’t involve combustion – like Zone X tobacco-free oral nicotine pouches – smoking rates have dropped significantly.


We’re on the cusp of a true revolution – driven by consumer demand, a better understanding of our consumers and continued NGP science and innovation.

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