A top executive of a multinational company endorses a deeper level of public-private partnership that supports transparency, innovation and factual information to address the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change and other emerging global health problems.
“If we want to have significant change, governments alone cannot do it, companies alone cannot do it. I think the first and most important thing in my view is to factually explain to people what the problems we are facing, not demagogically, not based on politics, but based on facts,” André Calantzopoulos, the CEO who leads the transformation of Philip Morris International, said in the “Conversations on Leadership” virtual panel discussion held on September 29, 2020.
Calantzopoulos joined Julia Coronado, president and founder of MacroPolicy Perspectives, as co-panelist in the online event organized by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) in line with the first virtual session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). This year’s UNGA theme was “Reaffirming our collective commitment to multilateralism, confronting COVID-19 through effective multilateral action”. The panelists shared lessons learned from the pandemic and how the scientific community can better work with the public and private sectors to mitigate threats to global health in the future.
The PMI executive said scientists have a crucial role to play during this period when a lot of non-factual or inflammatory information spread across the world. “People get very confused with what they see. If we take Covid as an example, or the example of reduced-risk products in our sector, people can see everything in opposite and they are completely confused. And when they get confused, typically they are paralyzed and they don’t change behavior,” he said.
Calantzopoulos is referring to the erroneous perception among smokers that innovative products such as electronic cigarettes and heat-not-burn tobacco products are more harmful than combustible cigarettes. “If we take for example our sector, with all the discussion on vapor products in the US, some of them are completely wrong and based on absolutely faulty science. About 55 percent of people who smoke believe that vapor products are worse than cigarettes, and they continue smoking. Somebody has to be accountable for that confusion,” he said.
He said that contrary to such widespread misinformation, smoke is what causes illnesses among smokers. “We see it with our efforts to try to convert people to move out of cigarettes and switch them to less harmful, non-combustible alternatives because combustion is the problem. You have to explain to people that combustion is the problem. Like in flights, it is not the fossil fuel that is the problem. The fact that we burn them, that creates the problem,” he said.
PMI is leading the transformation in the tobacco industry to create a smoke-free future and ultimately replace cigarettes with smoke-free products such as 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.
Calantzopoulos said the government’s role is to create the right regulatory environment, so all these innovations happen in an orderly manner and in a collaborative manner. “Many of the things we try to achieve, you cannot just have a law and assume things will happen or just leave it to companies and assume this will happen. I think we need a very interactive process between the public sector and the private sector,” he said.
Calantzopoulos said innovation has proven effective in providing solutions or helping people manage their daily life, such as the case of digitization during the coronavirus pandemic. “So for companies, it is a great opportunity and we all need to embrace it, but my view is that we can also use technology much more for decision making,” he said.
He said the same is true in the issue of climate change. “When we talk about climate change and solutions, we don’t talk about zero harm, because solar panels are not zero harm. They just reduce the impact or the harm. But we need to also know the side effect of that. That is where the regulators need to create the right framework. That is the best way to collaborate between public and private sectors,” he said.