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Origins of tobacco harm reduction in the UK: the ‘Product Modification Programme' (1972–1991)
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  • Published on:
    Evolution, Resurrection, or Zombie Apocalypse?
    • Jesse Elias, Researcher Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, University of California, San Francisco
    • Other Contributors:
      • Pamela Ling, Professor of Medicine

    NOT PEER REVIEWED
    We thank Dr. Jarvis for his appreciation of our historical scholarship but disagree that our conclusion, “the promotion of tobacco harm reduction may serve the interests of tobacco companies more effectively than the public,” is an attack.

    Our paper is about how policy affects ideas and vice versa. The ideas guiding the product modification program led to bad outcomes. That these ideas have been reanimated merits critical assessment. Voluntary agreements led to industry influence over the ISCSH’s recommendations, which in turn undermined public health. We point out that some of the same premises that led the ISCSH astray are popular again. Jarvis claims that current UK harm reduction policy has nothing to do with the product modification program, and everything to do with the influence of the late Michael Russell. Russell’s impressive scholarship – and oft-quoted statement, “people smoke for the nicotine, but die from the tar” – is indeed hugely influential among proponents of tobacco harm reduction. Jarvis posits that Russell’s work serves as a “paradigm shift” on which the UK’s current embrace of long-term nicotine maintenance and tobacco harm reduction actually rests, and which severs any link between the failures of product modification and widespread fears of a redux today.

    Yet Russell’s work represents more a variation in theme than it does revolution in content. Russell’s policy recommendations operate from the same premises a...

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    Conflict of Interest:
    None declared.
  • Published on:
    There are still lessons to be learned
    • Mike Daube, Professor of Health Policy Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia

    NOT PEER REVIEWED Martin Jarvis is right to describe the Hunter Committee era as “a sorry tale” that by and large is well told by Elias and Ling, but his assertion that “taken as a whole their paper reads more as an attack on current UK policy than as a scholarly contribution to the history of tobacco control” is way over the top, as is his criticism of “the editorial processes and decision-making of Tobacco Control”.

    In a paper that runs to a little over five pages of text, there are very brief references to current policies on the first page, then further brief references towards the end, suggesting that there are lessons to be drawn from the earlier episodes.

    The paper might indeed have expanded further on the industry-friendly record of the Hunter Committee, noting that after his term as Chairman of the Committee ended, Lord Hunter became a consultant for Imperial Tobacco, while a civil servant who worked on smoking and serviced the Hunter Committee went on to work for Gallahers. It might also have included more emphasis on the way tobacco substitutes dominated public discourse on tobacco policy issues during the 1970s (1), although in fairness to the authors they appear to have been misled by the re-writing of history evident in some of the material they cite, particularly from industry actors.

    But this would simply have added more weight to the conclusion that during the 1970s discussion, debate and massive promotion of tobacco substitutes by t...

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    Conflict of Interest:
    None declared.
  • Published on:
    Did mammals evolve from dinosaurs? Current UK harm reduction policy did not come from the product modification fiasco of the 1970s
    • Martin J Jarvis, Emeritus Professor of Health Psychology Department of Behavioural Science & Health University College London 1-19 Torrington Place, London WC1E 6BT

    NOT PEER REVIEWED
    Elias & Ling throw useful light on the slow-motion disaster that was the series of voluntary agreements begun in the 1970s between government and the tobacco industry in the UK, overseen by the Independent Scientific Committee on Smoking and Health (ISCSH). These had as their aim to address the issue of tobacco product modification to reduce the health risks of smoking. Industry produced new smoking materials with the aim of reducing the biological activity of the tar fraction of smoke from cigarettes, and agreed to a programme of gradual tar yield reduction across the years. The novel products failed because consumers rejected them (there were too few users even to recruit for trials to examine their potential benefits), and the reductions in machine-smoked tar yields were achieved largely through increasing filter ventilation. The material cited shows that the low tar programme fiasco was characterized by undue influence from tobacco industry and a complete lack of understanding of the dynamics of smoking behaviour on the part of the scientific experts charged by government with supervision of the programme.
    This is a sorry tale from the early days of tobacco control, and Elias & Ling tell it well. So far so good. But in framing and interpreting their material they go well beyond the data they cite, and draw quite unwarranted conclusions about what they see as the deficiencies of the current UK harm reduction policy. Indeed, tak...

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    Conflict of Interest:
    None declared.
  • Published on:
    Evidence-based tobacco harm reduction
    • John Britton, Professor of Epidemiology Chair, Tobacco Advisory Group of the Royal College of Physicians
    • Other Contributors:
      • Rosanna O'Connor, Director of Drugs, Alcohol and Tobacco

    NOT PEER REVIEWED Elias and Ling conclude that ‘Regulatory bodies should consider toxin exposure, and new products’ actual use, abuse potential and population health effects before endorsing them as safer’. We agree, and that is exactly what Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians have done [1-4].

    1. Britton, J. and Bogdanovica, I. Electronic cigarettes. A report commissioned by Public Health England. Public Health England, 2014. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/fil...
    2. Bauld, L., Angus, K., and de Andrade, M. E-cigarette uptake and marketing. A report commissioned by Public Health England. Public Health England, 2014. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/fil...
    3. McNeill, A., Brose, L., Calder, R., Hitchman, S.C., McRobbie, H., and Hajek, P. E-cigarettes: an evidence update. A report commissioned by Public Health England. Public Health England, 2015. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/fil...
    4. Tobacco Adviso...

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    Conflict of Interest:
    None declared.