Tobacco harm reduction and growing support
Experts all over the world have been hailing tobacco harm reduction (THR) as a pragmatic approach to control the smoking epidemic which effects 1.1 billion people worldwide. Unfortunately, majority of countries still classify e-cigarettes, heated tobacco products (HTPs) and other smoke-free nicotine delivery systems same as combustible tobacco products, and hence they are regulated in the same way as cigarettes. This overshadows the potential of less harmful tobacco alternatives in reducing tobacco harm and suppresses the right of smokers to make well-informed decisions about their health.
There are a number of scientifically substantiated, smoke-less products and technologies that are recognized as reduced-risk alternatives to curb harm caused by cigarettes under the umbrella of tobacco harm reduction. These products function differently from cigarettes and have the potential to minimize risk for smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke. An e-cigarette or vape is a battery-powered device that heats a liquid containing nicotine into a vapor that is inhaled like a cigarette while HTP, also electronically powered, heats the tobacco at a lower temperature resulting in a clear vapor instead of hazardous cigarette smoke . Snuff, nicotine pouches, and chewable tobacco products, are also smokeless and less harmful than cigarettes . Public Health England, a leading health body in Europe, affirmed results of peer-reviewed studies showing that vaping, or the use of electronic cigarettes, is 95-percent less harmful than smoking tobacco.
In this regard, the European Parliament has adopted a special committee report that calls for stronger EU action on how to prevent cancer, with a provision on the role of e-cigarettes in helping smokers quit, making it the first legislative body in the world to officially recognize tobacco harm reduction as a public health strategy.
The report, introduced by the Parliament’s Special Committee on Beating Cancer (BECA), promote smoking cessation through the use of smokeless tobacco alternatives. BECA has also asked for evaluations of the health risks related to electronic cigarettes, heated tobacco products (HTPs) and novel tobacco products, including the assessment of the risks of using these products compared to consuming other tobacco products, and the establishment at European level of a list of substances contained in, and emitted by, these products. The Independent European Vape Alliance (IEVA) also lauded this measure and said that over six million smokers in the EU have been able to significantly reduce the damage to their health by switching completely to reduced-risk alternatives such as the e-cigarette .
This move serves as an inspiration for policy makers and regulatory bodies all over the world to incorporate THR strategies in their tobacco control laws. With proper regulations, instead of blanket bans and unnecessary taxes, these alternatives can prove to be a valuable public health opportunity for smokers and pave way for new and improved technologies in the future.