Market-level findings from a new international survey conducted by independent research firm Povaddo reveals that the public want a more balanced approach to tobacco regulation. 

Over 80 percent of South African survey respondents believe decisions that impact society and public health should be made based on science and facts. Commissioned by Philip Morris International (PMI), entitled ‘Encouraging a Balanced Approach,’ the survey was conducted in February 2022 among 44,000 adults in 22 countries, including South Africa. 

The survey explores the attitudes regarding the biggest issues facing society today. The results reveal a broad support for solution driven action toward real progress. The survey revealed that grounds for progress and compromise are found when all voices are at the table and are willing to listen and consider all sides of an argument. 

Most notably, 92 percent of respondents in SA believed that to find solutions to the biggest problems facing society today, leaders need to consider all perspectives, even those with whom there are strong disagreements. 

However, according to the survey, when it comes to listening to nicotine consumers and considering tobacco harm reduction policies as part of a wider strategy to address the global public health issue of smoking, smokers are feeling ignored or discounted. 

The survey found that globally, four in ten nicotine consumers feel discriminated against or marginalised. Only two in ten nicotine consumers feel their voices are heard or considered. 

The survey results showed that: 

● 83 percent of South Africans feel that their voices have been excluded for too long and that a new approach to regulation is needed to better balance the voices of nicotine consumers and those who don’t consume such products. 

● In South Africa, 82 percent felt that their views should be considered by policymakers when deciding on tobacco and nicotine regulations. 

Regarding tobacco policy, the survey revealed that those who are directly impacted by tobacco regulations do not feel like they have a seat at the table. 

A consequence from increasingly divided discourse is the growing prevalence of misinformation. From the survey, 85 percent of respondents (83 percent in SA) believe decisions that impact society and public health should be made based on science and facts. 

● 89 percent of respondents in South Africa expect their leaders to adopt laws and regulation based on facts and data to keep up with the pace of technological change and innovation. 

● 82 percent of South Africans agree that adults who would otherwise continue smoking should have access to accurate information about smoke-free alternatives like e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products that are scientifically substantiated to be a better choice than continued smoking. 

● 72 percent of respondents in South Africa agree that the government needs to consider the role alternative products can play in making their country smoke-free. 

Driving toward a balanced approach 

Finding the right balance of existing regulations aimed at preventing smoking initiation and promoting smoking cessation should be complemented by measures that enable those adults who would otherwise continue to smoke to have access to and non-misleading information about science-based alternatives. 

Philip Morris South Africa says that inclusion of a harm reduction approach in strategies aimed at decreasing smoking prevalence has the potential to foster more rapid declines and can allow for progress in the realm of public health. 

Yet, despite the increasing debate and scepticism, there is an appetite from the public to come together and find solutions based on science on facts, rather than roadblocks. 

61% of respondents in South Africa believe that societal expectations of total abstinence from harmful behaviours such as tobacco usage and alcohol consumption are not feasible and that governments should take steps to ensure harm reduction solutions. 

68 percent of respondents in South Africa agree that encouraging adults who would otherwise continue to smoke to completely switch to smoke-free alternative products can complement other efforts to reduce the harm caused by smoking cigarettes. 

PMI is leading a transformation in the tobacco industry to create a smoke-free future and ultimately replace cigarettes with scientifically substantiated smoke-free products for adults who continue to smoke, to the benefit of public health. 

While these smoke-free alternatives are not risk-free and contain nicotine, which is addictive, they are a better choice than continuing to smoke. Philip Morris South Africa believes that transformation in the name of progress is often a difficult task to undertake. 

“As we consider policies that regulate tobacco usage, governments should consider the needs of all parties, including adult smokers,” says Vuyokazi Xapa, Director of Corporate Communications at Philip Morris South Africa. 

“Complementing existing measures will ensure that adult smokers have accurate and non-misleading information on scientifically substantiated better alternatives to continued smoking.” 

This will result she says, in a meaningful impact on public health. “A smoke-free future is in reach, provided that there is the right support from civil society and governments.”