Understanding the emergence of the tobacco industry's use of the term tobacco harm reduction in order to inform public health policy

Silvy Peeters, Anna B. Gilmore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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Objectives: To explore the history of transnational tobacco companies’ use of the term, approach to and perceived benefits of ‘harm reduction’.

Methods: Analysis of internal tobacco industry documents, contemporary tobacco industry literature and 6 semistructured interviews.

Results: The 2001 Institute of Medicine report on tobacco harm reduction appears to have been pivotal in shaping industry discourse. Documents suggest British American Tobacco and Philip Morris International adopted the term ‘harm reduction’ from Institute of Medicine, then proceeded to heavily emphasise the term in their corporate messaging. Documents and interviews suggest harm reduction offered the tobacco industry two main benefits: an opportunity to (re-) establish dialogue with and access to policy makers, scientists and public health groups and to secure reputational benefits via an emerging corporate social responsibility agenda.

Conclusions: Transnational tobacco companies’ harm reduction discourse should be seen as opportunistic tactical adaptation to policy change rather than a genuine commitment to harm reduction. Care should be taken that this does not undermine gains hitherto secured in efforts to reduce the ability of the tobacco industry to inappropriately influence policy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)182-189
JournalTobacco Control
Issue number2
Early online date22 Jan 2014
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2015



  • tobacco industry
  • harm reduction
  • snus
  • public health policy

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