Ms. Stacey Kennedy, President for South and Southeast Asia Region, Philip Morris International (PMI).

“Evidence-informed policies can enable governments to put in place science-based product standards that provide protection for individual consumers and society as a whole. The private and public sectors in the Philippines need to work together in creating the right standards and regulations that help accelerate innovation,” said Ms. Stacey Kennedy, President for South and Southeast Asia Region, Philip Morris International (PMI).

Kennedy joined two top Filipino executives in a virtual panel event, “Defying conventional wisdom: Promoting fact-based innovation”, organized by the international weekly newspaper The Economist on September 3, 2020. The panelists shared their insights on how businesses and policymakers can ensure facts and evidence are central to disruptive new initiatives, and foster trust and transparency in decision-making processes to ensure these new ways gain widespread support throughout the Philippines.

PMI is leading a transformation in the tobacco industry to create a smoke-free future and ultimately replace cigarettes with smoke-free products to benefit adults who would otherwise continue to smoke. Among the smoke-free products developed by PMI and already available in many markets around the world is IQOS, an electronic device that heats tobacco-filled sticks wrapped in paper, called HEETS or HeatSticks, to generate a nicotine-containing aerosol.

IQOS heats specially designed tobacco units just enough to release a flavorful nicotine-containing tobacco vapor but without burning the tobacco. Because the tobacco is not burned, the levels of chemicals produced by IQOS is significantly lower compared to combustible cigarette smoke. Around 11 million adult smokers around the world have already stopped smoking and switched to IQOS.

Doing the right thing

Weighing in on the dilemma between the speed in innovation and the need for research and evidence gathering, Kennedy stressed that both are important and there is a clear sequence. “Evidence-based science has to come first. Once you have the evidence and clear validation, then the process should move at speed.”

She explained that PMI has built an advantage because the company has invested more than USD 7 billion over the past decade to develop smoke-free products that address the problem of combustion. Over 430 PMI R&D experts are working to develop and assess new smoke-free products and have published over 350 peer-reviewed scientific publications and book chapters to date.

“Combustion or the burning of tobacco produces harmful toxicants that cause tobacco-related diseases and death. Now is the time to build societal support from other stakeholders including government regulators to bring to market an innovative product that benefits consumers and society,” said Kennedy.

Kennedy believes that intuition and timing have an important role in innovation, particularly for cannibalizing industries that are disrupting themselves. “This is certainly true for my company. So I think that there’s a level of intuition and timing, but there’s also just the sense of doing the right thing,” she said.

Transparency leads to trust

Kennedy strongly believes that transparency is key to fostering trust between industry and policymakers. “Transparency in data, transparency in scientific processes and protocols and in sharing of third-party reviews by scientists and scientific bodies. Policymakers should really look to third-party reviews as well as begin to look at the science themselves in order to make fact-based decisions,” she said.

The best way to dispel distrust, she explained, is to have honest conversations and dialogues that are based on scientific evidence. “It’s not about believing my company and my science; rather it’s about looking at third-party scientists and scientific bodies who conduct independent reviews. So it becomes less about ‘Trust me’ but more about ‘Trust the science and the independent scientific bodies that are reviewing the evidence’,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy cautioned against overly strict policies and regulations, which could be counterproductive to innovation. “The goal of innovation is to allow consumers to enjoy it. Consumers can’t take advantage of innovation if they don’t have access to it and don’t understand what it is and what it means for them. Access to information is critical.”

Not all smoke-free products that are intended as a better alternative to cigarettes are the same, she stressed. “But if consumers don’t know about them and have no access to them, then they won’t be able to differentiate.” 

Kennedy underscored the importance of ensuring that all stakeholders in the entire tobacco industry ecosystem benefit from a new innovation. “In the Philippines, there are thousands of tobacco farmers, around 16 million smokers, and over one million retailers, predominantly sari-sari stores. And this is their livelihood,” she said.