Background on the tobacco industry
As of 2022, the global tobacco market was valued at approximately 867.55 USD billion, and it is projected to experience a 2.1% annual growth from 2023 to 2024. This has been attributed to rising consumption in the developing regions of Asia and Africa, but also to the trend toward new tobacco products launched, attracting a new demographic of consumers. This growth comes despite increasing awareness of the unfavorable consequences to public health and an excruciating effort to decrease the sale and consumption of tobacco and tobacco-related products.
The WHO (World Health Organization) considers tobacco use to be “the leading cause of death, illness and impoverishment”, labeling its usage as an epidemic. Tobacco consumption is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced. Consequently, in recent years the sale of tobacco has been subject to increasing sanctions, with bans on advertising, promotion, sponsorship, elevated taxation on tobacco-based products, and the enforcement of hard-hitting health warnings on product packaging.
As a result, the Tobacco industry has diversified, introducing new products such as e-cigarettes (often referred to as vapes), and heated tobacco products. Although the sale of such products to minors is banned in many countries, these products have fallen under intense scrutiny, following reports of high levels of teen addiction, and potential cardio-respiratory symptoms, mostly possibly resulting from the excessive inhalation of certain toxicants in the aerosols used to deliver the product. Consequently, the industry is facing further opposition, with calls for bans on the marketing of vapes to youngsters’ by means of bright colors and sweet fruit flavors. In the UK, this stance was recently voiced by both the Shadow Health Secretary and the Shadow Minister for Children. In response, the industry insists that e-cigarettes are not marketed to the underage population and are rather intended as a safer option for adult cigarette smokers.
Similar challenges within the cannabinoid industry
The increased presence of cannabinoid-based products in retail outlets represents a similar development in a closely related market. The National Health Service (NHS) in the UK already approved several cannabis-based products for the treatment of chronic pain, nausea, spasticity, and severe epilepsy. Furthermore, the recreational smoking of cannabis has been legalized in many countries. The negative health impacts associated with smoking cannabis have not prevented a strong uptake in the use of non-prescribed cannabis-based products, such as cannabis beverages and cannabidiol (CBD) products, which are often marketed as health products or nutraceuticals for the treatment of anxiety and inflammation. These products have also faced opposition on account of uncertainty regarding the side effects of exposure in high doses and regular long-term use.
The need for reliable toxicity assays and screening
With many of the products marketed by the Tobacco industry being relatively new, the key issue surrounding market acceptance and regulatory approval is that of uncertainty concerning their safety and long-term effects. While the WHO has labeled the industry a preventable “human and economic tragedy”, the potential medical benefits of inhaled plant-derived products cannot be ignored. Certain tobacco derivatives and cannabinoids have been demonstrated to be effective in the treatment of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, as well as anxiety and various mental health disorders. Within a context of strict regulation and opposition, paired with a lack of knowledge regarding potential long-term effects, robust toxicity testing and screening are vital.