THE current Covid-19 pandemic requires sustainable behavioural change among people from all walks of life, in order to reduce the impact of the virus.
The outbreak has taught us that harm reduction approaches benefit public health greatly.
If you cannot avoid taking the risk of potentially contracting the virus, steps must be taken to greatly decrease the possibility of infection and development of severe symptoms.
Although many are sceptical of vaccines, the Health Ministry has done a commendable job in communicating its safety and benefits – showing that informed private decision-making benefits public health as vaccination rates have soared.
Evidently, experts in the field of science and technology believe that harm reduction approaches can play an important role to minimise the negative impacts in many areas, such as smoking, drugs, road safety and diet.
For instance, the use of alternatives to cigarettes can be used as a method of harm reduction when smokers are not able or willing to quit smoking.
These alternatives have been described as methods of harm reduction due to the alleged reduced risk when using them.
Countries like Japan have seen success in tobacco harm reduction. In the last four years, the sales of combustible cigarettes reduced by 34% whereas the use of alternatives like heated tobacco went up to 30% in 2019.
One of the harm reduction recommendations is the use of heated tobacco products which heat tobacco units up to 350°C.
The system reportedly heats tobacco without combustion, ash or smoke. Since there is no burning, the levels of harmful chemicals are significantly reduced compared to cigarette smoke.
According to Prof Dr David Khayat, head of the Department of Medical Oncology at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, a study revealed that 64% smokers diagnosed with lung cancer will continue to smoke.
“We can help the people to have less harm even if they can’t completely quit bad behaviour,” he said, adding that the solution is education.
“Innovations through science such as snus, heated tobacco products (HTP) or e-cigarettes will help decrease the harm of bad behaviour such as tobacco smoking or combustive cigarettes.”
Meanwhile, Philip Morris International scientific engagement director regional (Asia) Tomoko Iida said: “Burning cigarettes releases smoke that contains more than 6,000 chemicals.
“Around 100 of these chemicals have been classified by public health experts as harmful or potentially harmful in causing smoking related diseases.”
She said that the temperature of a burning cigarette can reach up to around 800°C. “Scientific studies have shown that as the temperature of tobacco increases, the level of harmful chemicals formed increases,” she said.
HTPs are better alternatives because although nicotine is a well-known component of tobacco and causes addiction, it is not the primary cause of smoking-related diseases.
These are caused by toxicants created when a cigarette is burned such as tar and carbon monoxide.
In addition, Frost and Sullivan (Asia Pacific) growth strategy director Takashi Sugihara said Japan is the largest global market for HTPs.
Citing a study, he said: “Exposure to aerosol from HTPs in a designated smoking room under usual conditions is estimated to be tolerable, since the lifetime cancer risk is expected to be below a virtually safe dose of 10-5 (1/100,000), which is three orders of magnitude lower than that for cigarettes smoked under the same conditions.”
This data point means that the risk of developing cancer from HTP aerosol is severely diminished compared to smoking, suggesting that it is a better alternative than continued cigarette smoking.
It is evident that harm reduction approaches to tackling the smoking problem have scientific backing, especially in terms of reducing the prevalence of smoking-related disease.
Harm reduction approaches have shown success around the world in battling many addictions such as alcohol addiction and drug addiction, and are seen as the way forward in terms of rehabilitation therapy.
However, the creation of these alternatives to smoking, and making them readily available to the public, may promote its abuse and must therefore be regulated based on scientific evidence by the government in order to ensure that consumers’ wellbeing is prioritised and taken care of.