Prioritizing tobacco harm reduction: A vital step towards reducing premature deaths

Current global practices to combat the devastating impact of tobacco-related deaths have fallen short, with the World Health Organiza­tion (WHO) estimating an annual toll of 8.5 million deaths, a num­ber expected to rise to 10 million in the next five years.

Against this backdrop, a study titled ‘Integrating Harm Reduc­tion into Tobacco Control’ has emerged. This study delves into the specific challenges faced by four Low Middle-Income Coun­tries (LMICs) including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, and South Africa, where 350,000 lives are prematurely lost each year due to tobacco use.

In these countries, a noticeable gender gap in smoking rates con­tributes to disparities in life expec­tancy, worsened by the prevalent use of toxic products, particularly in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Smok­ing-related diseasesconsistently rank among the leading causes of death in these nations.

The report emphasizes the potential benefits of adopting a harm reduction approach. It also underscores the time-sensitive nature of addressing tobacco-related diseases, high­lighting that the full benefits of harm reduction takes decades to manifest.

The study also champions the adoption of THR products like e-cigarettes, oral nico­tine pouches, snus, and heated tobacco products.Pakistan could save 1,200,000 lives in the next four decades, while Bangladesh,Kazakhstan, and South Africa could collectively prevent 1.405 million prema­ture deaths.

The potential decline in smok­ing-related deaths, especially in LMICs like Pakistan, is substantial, with the spectrum of less harmful alternatives reducing toxic expo­sures by 80% and decreasing pre­mature deaths by 70%.

The study emphasizes the critical role of governments in regulating alternative products proportionate to their health risks. Additionally, it advocates providing information about the less harmful impact of alternative products to adult tobacco users. 

This comprehensive approach, involving government regula­tion, private sector innovation, and informed public awareness, is crucial to maximizing the po­tential benefits of harm reduc­tion strategies.

As harm reduction strategies in tobacco control gain momentum globally, the study underscores its significance for LMICs, where over 1 billion people reside, fac­ing a lack of awareness and poor detection of tobacco-related dis­eases. The transformative impact of adopting tobacco harm reduc­tion strategies, like many devel­oped countries such as the UK, US and Japan, and the declining use of combustibles is powerful evidence that this approach could save millions of lives in LMICs provided governments, WHO, and physicians play their roles in ad­vocating for such policies and en­suring wider accessibility to these less harmful alternatives.


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