THR: An effective strategy taken up globally

Karachi-Harm reduction is a range of pragmatic policies, regulations, and actions that aim to reduce health risks by providing potentially reduced-risk alternatives that encourage less risky behaviours. Tobacco Harm Reduction (THR) advocates for the use of potentially less harmful alternatives to millions of people who consume tobacco in traditional forms and are unwilling to quit with the current range of options they have.

Despite several health warnings and anti-tobacco campaigns, a large chunk of the world’s population continues to smoke, which shows that the same old strategies and tactics for reducing global smoking are not nearly enough to deliver on the public health imperative.

Most people continue to smoke despite the fact that it may cause harm to them. Tobacco harm reduction reduces the harm caused by burnt tobacco by replacing it with potentially less harmful ways of delivering nicotine, and these alternatives have great potential to reduce the harm caused by traditional combustible tobacco products.

Countries that have embraced such products have seen a massive decline in the rate of smokers, with Japan being a leading example. Before embracing the potentially less risky alternatives, Japan was only noting a 1.8% decline between 2011-2015, but after the country regulated potentially less harmful alternatives, the country saw an annual decline of 9.5% in the next 3 years.

Around the same time in 2015, the smoking prevalence in the UK stood at 15.5%, with tobacco harm reduction interventions in place. Today, only 6% of the country’s total population smokes combustible tobacco products. The UK now has a lower smoking rate than any EU country apart from one or two countries. New Zealand has also seen a decline in the number of smokers, which came down to 8% in 2022 from 16.6% in 2015.

To make informed decisions about one’s life, it is important to consider multiple lines of evidence. Judging from the success of these interventions, the harm caused by combustible cigarettes may actually reduce significantly in the coming decade, only if nicotine users have access to potentially reduced-risk alternatives. As of now, empirical and real-time data suggest that THR interventions can actually be advantageous. Enabling smokers to take control of their cigarette consumption by using potentially less risky alternatives at the same time as cutting down on smoking may also increase smokers’ confidence and ability to quit subsequently.

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