Tobacco control is not working for most of the world, say Former WHO officials, Prof. Robert Beaglehole and Prof. Ruth Bonita. Then how can it work for Pakistan?

Four out of five of the world's smokers are in low-income and middle-income countries. In these countries where most of the eight million deaths caused by tobacco occur each year, rates of tobacco use are falling only slowly. Globally, the overall number of tobacco users has barely changed. Only 30% of countries are on track to achieve the WHO adult tobacco use target of a 30% reduction in prevalence by 2030 and most countries are not on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 3.4 for non-communicable diseases; its achievement will require a much more ambitious tobacco target.

According to the Lancet report, authored by  Prof. Robert Beaglehole and Prof. Ruth Bonita there is a need for greater compliance with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). The FCTC is no longer fit for purpose, especially for low-income countries. Neither WHO nor the FCTC are grounded in the latest evidence on the role of innovative nicotine delivery devices in assisting the transition from cigarettes to much less harmful products.

The missing strategy in WHO and FCTC policies is harm reduction. Most people smoke because they are dependent on nicotine. Tobacco harm reduction reduces the harm caused by burnt tobacco by replacing cigarettes with much less harmful ways of delivering nicotine; these alternatives have great potential to disrupt the cigarette industry.

Unfortunately, WHO and the FCTC Conference of Parties reject harm reduction.

This opposition is not grounded in 21st century technological advances, and is unduly influenced by vested interests that promote nicotine abstinence. This opposition privileges the most harmful products—cigarettes.

A recent study titled ‘Integrating Harm Reduction Into Tobacco Control,’ conducted in London, aligns with the recommendations of Prof. Beaglehole and Prof. Bonita. The study suggests that Pakistan could potentially save 1.2 million lives over the next four decades by embracing harm reduction strategies to tobacco control.

In the quest for effective tobacco control strategies, evidence from countries like Sweden sheds light on the potential of harm reduction approaches. Over the past 15 years, Sweden has achieved a remarkable reduction in smoking rates, plummeting from 15% in 2008 to an impressive 5.6% today. This success is attributed to Sweden’s embrace of harm reduction through alternatives such as e-cigarettes, nicotine pouches, and snus.

The findings and recommendations of Prof. Beaglehole and Prof. Bonita, based on their extensive experience within the WHO, shed light on the urgent need for innovative approaches to tobacco control. Collective action, a sincere commitment from all stakeholders and embracing harm reduction strategies are essential steps towards reducing the burden of smoking-related diseases.

ePaper - Nawaiwaqt