Warming up to change - a global perspective on harm reduction initiatives

KARACHI  -  Smoking is a global health concern, contributing significantly to the rise of serious illnesses and premature deaths. Given the consequences of smoking, the best thing one can do for their health is quit smoking al­together. But for those who want to continue smoking, the next best thing they can do is minimize the harm that comes from cigarettes by switching to less harmful alternatives. In recent years, various countries, including Japan, Sweden, and the Philippines, have explored alternative approach­es to combat smoking rates, empha­sizing harm reduction strategies through the regulation of smoke-free products like e-cigarettes, nicotine pouches, heated tobacco products and snus among others.

In the pursuit of reducing smoking rates and improving public health, several developed countries have actively embraced smoke-free alter­natives. Japan and Sweden stand out as success stories, having effectively curbed smoking rates through the regulation of alternative products. In Japan, the widespread use of elec­tronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) has gained popularity, providing smok­ers with a less harmful alternative to traditional cigarettes. Similarly, Sweden’s success is attributed to the widespread use of snus, a smokeless tobacco product.

E-cigarettes and heated tobacco products have emerged as a promis­ing alternative for individuals who want to continue smoking. These devices deliver nicotine without the harmful carcinogenic toxins found in cigarettes. Combustion is theprimary contributor to the extensive damage caused by smoking. When tobacco is burnt it releases a myriad of harmful substances, including carcinogenic chemicals and toxic byproducts, which are inhaled by the smoker. This mix of harmful compounds is linked to various health issues, such as respiratory diseases. On the con­trary, heated tobacco products oper­ate on the principle of eliminating combustion: these alternatives heat the tobacco without the process of combustion, significantly reducing the production of harmful chemicals and eliminating the formation of tar. 

Stakeholders, including public health experts, advocacy groups, and individuals working towards harm re­duction all over the world, are calling for governments to adopt reasonable, risk-proportionate, and realistic regu­latory frameworks for smoke-free products. Such frameworks would en­sure that smokers have access to accu­rate information about these alterna­tives and can make informed choices to move away from cigarettes.

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