Tobacco giant blocked from selling heated cigarette substitute in Australia

12 June 2020

Matt Bamford: ABC News

Efforts by tobacco giant Philip Morris to introduce a smoke-free cigarette alternative to Australia have been blocked by an interim decision from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

Yesterday the TGA rejected a request by the company to reschedule nicotine under a law that would have helped get its heated tobacco products (HTPs) onto Australian shelves.

Heated tobacco products are marketed as less harmful alternatives to smoking because the tobacco is not ignited, but scientists say not enough is known to declare them safe to use.

Only combustible nicotine products like cigarettes and cigars are allowed to be sold in Australia.

The decision was met with cautious optimism by one health expert, but the company vowed to continue the public debate around smoking alternatives.

‘The right decision was made’

Philip Morris says HTPs, which are different to vaping products, have been approved for use in more than 50 countries.

But the TGA found they were of “no public health benefit”, had a high potential to cause harm, and were a new way of delivering nicotine rather than a “quit smoking” product.

Philip Morris spokesman Simon Breheny said the decision was disappointing for Australia’s “three million smokers” who had been denied access to “less harmful” alternatives.

“It puts Australia at odds with many other countries who have decided to regulate heated tobacco and smoke free alternatives,” he told ABC Radio Sydney’s Focus program.

Senior researcher Becky Freeman, from Sydney University’s School of Public Health, said the decision vindicated warnings by health experts.

“The right decision was made,” she said.

No legal challenge, company says

In 2018, Philip Morris successfully fought the New Zealand Government in court for the right to sell the products.

“They are willing to try everything and anything to get them on the market,” Dr Freeman said.

But Mr Breheny was adamant that the company would “absolutely not” mount a legal challenge to the decision in Australia.

“We think a regulatory mechanism is the appropriate way forward,” he said.

He said the company will keep up the debate with the public and government that cigarette substitutes should be sold in Australia.

“People who are looking for these alternatives will continue to make the case for why they are important,” he said.

The final decision is expected to be handed down in August.