THE Covid-19 pandemic has hit an unprepared world hard, but what is more devastating is the deaths caused by the decades-old tobacco pandemic.
Smoking is not only the most common form of tobacco use but one of the leading preventable risk factors for premature mortality worldwide – killing more than eight million people a year, including non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke.
According to Dr Arifin Fii, a medical practitioner with experience in addiction therapy, Malaysia needs to look for innovative solutions to manage smoking prevalence in the country.
“Official statistics indicate there is little evidence showing that existing tobacco control strategies are working, as most smokers have a low desire to quit.
“This is where tobacco harm reduction (THR) can be particularly beneficial, as it would allow smokers to switch to less harmful alternatives in their journey to quit completely,” said Dr Arifin following his attendance at the recent virtual Global Tobacco & Nicotine Forum (GTNF) 2021.
Matt Ridley, a member of the UK House of Lords which plays a crucial role in examining bills, reviewing government action and public policy, said in his keynote speech at the forum that e-cigarettes have caused massive declines in smoking in Britain more than almost any other country.
“This is partly because of an early decision by the government to resist calls to ban it. Britain has the lowest per capita smoking rate of any G7 country, the second lowest in Europe and one of the lowest incidences of lung cancer.
“More than three million people in this country now vape, and the vast majority of these were smokers when they started vaping, and about half have given up smoking altogether.
“E-cigarettes is now the most popular and most successful way of quitting tobacco. The Department of Health in the UK said in 2017: ‘We will help people quit smoking by permitting innovative technologies that minimise the risk of harm. We will maximise the availability safer alternatives to smoking.’ ”
According to James K. Glassman, former under-secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs US: “More people smoke today than 30 years ago. Most smokers want to quit, but success is extremely difficult. If nothing changes, one billion people will die of smoking-related causes in this century.
“Unfortunately, today’s cessation approaches will prolong the death and suffering.
“The effort to end smoking has the most powerful tool in history at its disposal – technology that delivers nicotine in a device that is 95% less harmful than cigarettes. By tying serious science to intelligent public policy, we can get smokers to switch to less harmful practices and eventually quit tobacco altogether.
“We have seen harm reduction work in Japan, Sweden, and the UK. Unfortunately, in all but a few countries, regulatory policy towards tobacco products are contradictory and not based on current scientific knowledge.
“We urge risk proportionate taxation and regulatory policy, and encourage other nations to do as the UK has – encourage broad use of harm reduction devices by current, persistent adult smokers.”
Dr Arifin said that these insights are particularly useful for countries like Malaysia where the awareness of tobacco harm reduction strategies is at a nascent stage.
“Integrated into tobacco control policies, harm reduction could be a gamechanger in the battle against non-communicable disease. Globally, there is compelling data that shows that consumers prefer to make safer choices when provided with less harmful alternatives and the right information by credible experts.
“Policymakers must listen to consumers and deliver policies that genuinely focus on reducing smoking-related deaths by all available means,” he said.
From its launch in Rio de Janeiro in 2008 to the present day, the GTNF has become the global exchange for views and ideas among public health experts, government representatives, investors and members of the tobacco and nicotine industries.