Uniting Through Science

Tackling polarization, hyperpartisanship, and dogma.

At a time when the world so desperately needs to pull together, how is it that we have allowed such divisive concepts to pervade societies across the globe?

Rather than respecting and relying on established facts, we see people insisting on their right to determine the “truth.” Rather than working in unison to solve our most pressing challenges, people and organizations are doubling down on entrenched biases, exclusionary behaviors, and “us vs. them” ideologies.

In the best of times, we pay a high price when we allow divisiveness to hinder progress. Today—when we face existential threats on multiple fronts—that price is incalculable. It will not be possible to come out on the other side of this global pandemic until people respect science-based protocols. It will not be possible to turn the tide of climate change until governments, businesses, and consumers resolve to operate more sustainably. It will not be possible to create a genuinely equitable world until we begin to see those least like us as deserving of our full grace.

The solution, as I see it, must be centered on respect for and adherence to facts. In the case of COVID-19 and climate change, it should be as simple as agreeing to “follow the science” and watching as progress unfolds. We know all too well, though, that science is being weaponized to suit narrow agendas. “Truth” is being held hostage by politics, and we all suffer as a result. Absent a commitment to scientific objectivity, we risk the very real and terrifying prospect of vaccine nationalism and an inability to tackle climate change at scale.

As CEO of a multinational tobacco company committed to delivering a smoke-free future—a world without cigarettes—I have seen firsthand what happens when polarization and entrenched prejudices are allowed to overrule science. Many years ago, our industry was challenged to create a better alternative to cigarettes. Philip Morris International answered that call. We are transforming our company to devise and produce a line of smoke-free products. To be clear: These products aren’t risk-free—and the best choice a person can make is never to start smoking or to quit nicotine and tobacco altogether—but, for those adults who would otherwise continue to smoke, scientifically validated smoke-free products are a far better choice than cigarettes.

A future in which cigarettes are obsolete is within reach. With the right regulatory encouragement and societal support, we believe cigarette sales can end in many countries within the next 10 to 15 years. Yes, you read that right: no more cigarettes in many countries within the next decade or decade and a half.

Will we achieve that? That is the open question. At present, our progress is at cross-purposes with political agendas and ideologies that are intentionally keeping the world’s smokers in the dark. While a growing number of public health organizations recognize the critical public health benefits of smoke-free alternatives, some organizations are putting dogma before data, allowing disinformation to supplant legitimate science. They are expending more energy on continuing decades-old battles than on helping the human beings who should be at the center of the debate.

We must do better.

We are issuing a challenge—calling on people to open their minds to the advances and counsel of science. If we continue to fight each other rather than working together toward our common goals, we will never achieve the better future we all envision.

Whether we are talking about vaccines, carbon emissions, or tobacco harm reduction, we need science, not rhetoric, to inform policies and regulations.

We allow science to be politicized and polarized at our peril.

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