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Providing safer alternatives more likely to reduce smoking – experts

Health experts believe that providing smokers less harmful alternatives will be more effective in reducing smoking than the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) recommendations prohibiting them while cigarettes remain available.

“To remain at the forefront of adopting effective strategies to reduce smoking, countries that have experience regulating these new products, including the Philippines, must continue to advocate at the global stage for science to guide policy response, not vice versa,” Dr. Lorenzo Mata, president of Quit For Good, a non-profit organization promoting harm reduction, said.

Mata made the statement at the 6th Summit on Tobacco Harm Reduction: Novel Products, Research & Policy organized by SCOHRE (the International Association on Smoking Control & Harm Reduction).

The summit was held as member countries of the WHO FCTC prepare for the 10th Conference of the Parties (C0P10) in Panama in November 2023 to discuss recommendations to ban “novel and emerging tobacco and nicotine products” such as vapes, heated tobacco and nicotine pouches or regulate them the same as cigarettes.

Experts weighed in on the continued tobacco sale.

Dr. Fernando Fernandez Bueno, a Spanish physician, said that he fully agrees with Mata.

Dr. Lorenzo Mata. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Dr. Lorenzo Mata. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

“The debate on tobacco control must be based on scientific arguments and clinical data, moving away from mere opinions and emotional responses. This is the only way to make progress in the fight against tobacco,” he said.

Tackling the financial aspects of smoking, Professor Andrzej Fal, president of the Polish Society of Public Health said that at a time when health expenditures keep growing, prevention is the most effective way of investing in future health.

“To stop the smoking pandemic and its financial and health effects, we need to raise funding for primordial prevention, as well as introduce a 'less harm, less tax' regulation,” he said.

Prof. David Sweanor of the University of Ottawa said that the FCTC and the WHO failed to acknowledge the merits of using less harmful tobacco and nicotine products to displace cigarettes.

“Failure to do it is this continued carnage—unnecessary death and disease. We also see government bodies, UN bodies destroying their credibility. When we lose the trust of the public, it affects us on a far broader range of issues than just tobacco and nicotine,” Sweanor said.

“People are buying cigarettes every day, every day we have a chance to intervene by offering a product that is massively less hazardous, doesn't harm the people around you, and is less addictive; and we can make sure that it is available more widely than cigarettes, at a lower price than cigarettes, with more accurate information about relative risk,” he added.

Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos, a Greek physician and researcher, said countries that support less harmful products now have the lowest smoking rates in the world.

“We can see data from places like Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Japan. Look at Japan, one of the largest cigarette markets in the world. Half of the market for cigarettes in Japan disappeared in the last seven years, with the rise of a single viable alternative,” he said, referring to heated tobacco products (HTP).

In his presentation, Mata highlighted that the FCTC's tobacco control strategies are failing as the number of smokers globally is not decreasing.

“Using safer nicotine products offers new choices to millions of people worldwide who want to move away from smoking or other dangerous forms of tobacco use,” he said. “The Philippine's response has been to enact Republic Act 11900, known as the Vape Law. At the heart of the Vape Law is the objective to regulate vapor products and heated tobacco products in order to promote a healthy environment, protect its citizens and reduce the harm caused by smoking.”

“By offering safer avenues, we have given smokers a chance to make better choices for themselves, which is exactly what the WHO and the FCTC should do,” he added.

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