A congressional caucus dedicated to encouraging tobacco harm reduction is being formed with the backing of Philip Morris International (PMI). Congressional caucuses are informal groups that gather to pursue common legislative goals.
The existence of the caucus was first reported by Politico earlier this week, which noted that lobbyists had been hired in January by PMI to “lobby on tobacco harm reduction, FDA oversight and the creation of a harm reduction caucus.” The lobbyists are former congressional staffers (one also worked at the Department of Health and Human Services) associated with health issues.
Yesterday, STAT News reported that the caucus would be co-chaired by Pennsylvania Republican Representative Guy Reschenthaler and North Carolina Democrat Don Davis. Reschenthaler, in his third term, is chief deputy whip in the Republican-controlled House. Davis is a first-term House member, and also belongs to the Congressional Black Caucus.
The caucus will “provide a forum to discuss all aspects of this public health debate, ranging from underage youth use prevention, risk-based taxation, methods to improve the public’s understanding of less harmful alternative products, and the regulatory processes governing these products,” according to a letter to prospective members quoted in the STAT article.
Tobacco harm reduction—often shortened to THR—is the strategy of reducing tobacco risks by encouraging people who smoke to switch to less-harmful tobacco or nicotine products that aren’t combusted. Examples of THR products include vapes, smokeless tobacco, nicotine pouches, and heated tobacco products (HTPs). The tobacco industry didn’t invent the concept of THR, or the name.
Numerous vaping, nicotine and tobacco-related bills have been debated and voted on by Congress in recent years—mostly without effective input from pro-THR voices. And, while PMI may be the driving force behind the formation of the caucus, the independent vaping industry and vaping consumers can also seek to participate and influence the discussion.
Having a caucus dedicated to protecting vape and nicotine consumer and industry interests could be a valuable tool to push back on the dominant congressional position, which has been shaped by anti-vaping and -tobacco groups like the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and its allies. Those groups have spent millions to influence the debate, and promote prohibition-leaning policy directions.
“The THR caucus is a positive step and we look forward to seeing it grow,” American Vapor Manufacturers Association (AVM) legislative and external affairs director Gregory Conley told Vaping360. “Adult vapers and small business owners should contact their member of Congress and explain why it is so important that they consider joining.”
The lobbying activity by Philip Morris International coincides with that company’s entry into the American marketplace, where it will not sell combustible tobacco products. Although they share the name Philip Morris, PMI is no longer connected to Philip Morris USA, the Altria Group subsidiary that sells Marlboro cigarettes in the United States. PMI was spun off in 2008 from the original Philip Morris company that was then renamed Altria. (PMI does sell cigarettes outside the U.S.)
PMI purchased manufacturer Swedish Match for $16 billion last November, giving it an instant—and major—footprint in the American low-risk nicotine market. Swedish Match sells ZYN nicotine pouches, the U.S. market leader, as well as General snus. PMI also plans to market its heated tobacco product IQOS in the U.S. beginning next year, after buying back the American licensing rights.
In 2019, Swedish Match became the first company with products to receive a modified risk tobacco product (MRTP) designation from the FDA when the agency granted it to eight General-brand snus varieties. PMI’s HTP product IQOS and IQOS Heatstick refills earned the second MRTP in 2020.
PMI sells vaping products in Europe (the IQOS VEEV), but has not in the U.S., which would require first obtaining FDA authorization through the premarket tobacco application (PMTA) pathway. It was reported in January that PMI was among the tobacco companies considering a partnership with (or purchase of) Juul Labs.
Earlier this year, as it ramped up its American presence, PMI hired well-known vaping industry advocates Paul Blair (formerly with Turning Point Brands) and Amanda Wheeler (Jvapes and the American Vapor Manufacturers Association) in government affairs roles.
PMI is headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut.