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Tobacco control restrictions hurting access to harm reduction options - experts

Experts says access to information that encourages smokers to switch to safe options needed.

In Summary

• During the discussion, it emerged that a number of scientific studies have revealed that alternatives to traditional tobacco do less harm than conventional cigarettes.

• Kenya is among countries that are focused on tobacco control and there has been efforts recently to put restrictions on the alternatives.

Some of the nicotine pouches available in the Kenyan market
Some of the nicotine pouches available in the Kenyan market
Image: OLIVER MATHENGE

Tobacco control restrictions are slowing down access to harm reduction products in Africa, experts have observed.

They are calling for mechanisms to enhance access to information that encourages smoker to switch to safe options when they cannot quit.

The panel of experts was speaking a virtual event organised by Philip Morris International following the Global Forum on Nicotine (GFN 2020) held on June 11, 2020.

"Harm reduction is relevant regardless of where you live," said Gizelle Baker, an epidemiologist and PMI's Director Scientific Engagement.

His sentiments were shared by Prof Reuven Zimlichman, Director of the Brunner Institute for Cardiovascular Research in Tel-Aviv University.

He noted that the most important thing in dealing with tobacco related ailments is the approach taken by government on harm reduction.

"They should make decisions that are compatible with medical approach. This will help explain to populations how they can lower their chances of disease by switching if they cannot stop smoking," Zimlichman said.

He added that the situation is complex and should be seen through human condition and behavior as unhealthy behaviors are inevitable.

"People make poor lifestyle choices despite suffering negative health effects. Heart disease patients continue to lead sedentary lives and eat unhealthy diet, diabetic patients continue to overeat and eat unhealthy food, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients continue to smoke," he said.

During the Global Nicotine Forum, the question regarding access to information was discussed as well.

 

Marewa Glover said that in some sub-Saharan African countries, there are some strong advocates for tobacco harm reduction who needed to be supported.

"It is very important for the wider international tobacco harm reduction sector to extend that support and to make sure that newer theories on how to help reduce harms associated with tobacco use are shared through African media outlets, and via health and education platforms for learning," said the Director of the Center of Research Excellence in New Zealand, specialized in indigenous sovereignty and smoking.

During the discussion, it emerged that a number of scientific studies have revealed that alternatives to traditional tobacco do less harm than conventional cigarettes.

This meant that millions of smokers have already switched to smoking alternatives such as heated tobacco or electronic cigarettes.

Kenya is among countries that are focused on tobacco control and there has been efforts recently to put restrictions on the alternatives.

Kenya’s Tobacco Control Board has plans to impose tougher controls on nicotine pouches as well as vape products.

However, experts note that nicotine products such as oral pouches can provide a lifeline to Kenya’s three million smokers, particularly for those who had given up on quitting.

"If we are serious about reducing the 30,000 tobacco-related deaths in Kenya every year, we need to offer smokers a realistic route to quitting cigarettes," Campaign for Safer Alternatives chairman Joseph Magero said during GFN 2020.