The opportunity. It's simple; British American Tobacco wants to reduce the public health impact of its products.
Can a tobacco company really be serious about harm reduction?
The use of tobacco products poses real and serious risks to health. The only way to avoid these risks is not to consume tobacco at all. But many adults choose to smoke, so British American Tobacco’s top priority continues to be working towards reducing these risks and making available a range of less risky tobacco and nicotine-based alternatives.
In the world of public health, harm reduction is about developing policies to try and minimise the negative health impact of a risky activity without stopping it entirely.
For example, advocating the use of condoms reduces the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Another example of harm reduction in action that is familiar to most of us is the use of seat belts and airbags in cars. For tobacco, this means offering less risky alternatives to regular cigarettes for those smokers who cannot, or choose not to, give up.
The idea of tobacco harm reduction is not a new one. British American Tobacco has long promoted snus, a type of low toxicant oral tobacco, which is a proven reduced risk product – but it lacks wide consumer appeal and availability globally. So it’s only relatively recently – with the rise in popularity of e-cigarettes – that harm reduction has moved from a concept to a global reality.
An increasing number in the scientific and public health community are now advocating harm reduction as the way forward for helping the 1.3 billion people worldwide who continue to smoke despite the known health risks.
In practice, this could mean that as well as traditional ‘stop smoking’ health services, smokers who’ve been unable to quit are encouraged to switch to less risky products.
However, currently only a few governments actively support this approach. There are some public health experts and organisations with concerns that not enough is known yet about the health risks of e-cigarettes and that they could undermine efforts to denormalise tobacco use. They are also suspicious of the tobacco industry’s involvement in tobacco harm reduction. For example, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recently stated that the industry “can never be considered to be a legitimate public health partner or stakeholder.” 
*  Electronic nicotine delivery systems, a report by the WHO, July 2014.
British American Tobacco’s research and development programme is focusing on tobacco harm reduction and are working on developing a next generation of tobacco and nicotine products that offers a less risky alternative to conventional cigarettes. British American Tobacco publishes details of its scientific research programmes on its dedicated website, www.bat-science.com , submits the results of studies to peer-reviewed journals, and presents widely at leading international conferences and events.
British American Tobacco are working with scientists and regulators to promote this next generation of products and advocate a regulatory approach that puts consumer safety and product quality first, while encouraging the growth of new less risky nicotine products that could help smokers cut down or quit.
British American Tobacco understands that harm reduction is a contentious topic where opinion is often divided, and that some people are skeptical about our motivations.
British American Tobacco hopes that its actions will demonstrate its continued commitment to harm reduction and that governments will carefully consider the potential benefits it can bring as part of a progressive approach to public health policy.
British American Tobacco’s Sustainability Focus Reports provide stakeholders with more in-depth information on the topics that interest them most.