3 Points For Tobacco Harm Reduction

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CASAA‘s very own science director Carl Phillips made several poignant arguments in support of electronic cigarettes at a recent city public health conference in London.

Smoking is considered among the worst health-affecting decisions made by a large percentage of the population.  It also affects the health of others–especially in high-density populations.  Smoking is thus a major topic of public health discussions like the City Health 2012 conference where Phillips presented.

Tobacco Harm Reduction (THR) programs encourage individuals to use less harmful tobacco products if they would otherwise continue using conventional cigarettes.  These programs are not very popular in some circles where fighting smoking takes precedence over helping smokers.  Alternatively, successful THR programs would take money away from big tobacco and big pharma which both benefit from smokers’ inability to transition away from cigarettes.

You can listen to Phillips’ comments here.  Here’s some top points that can be taken away from the presentation.

Electronic cigarettes separate the harm from the benefit in tobacco use. Cigarettes are a bit unusual in that the benefits they offer are not explicitly tied to the harm they inflict.  Tobacco itself isn’t nearly as dangerous as the act of smoking (combusting material and breathing it in).  Many people don’t even realize that nicotine itself is not considered a carcinogen.  Electronic cigarettes along with other smokeless tobacco products remove roughly 98% of the health problems associated with smoking by removing the smoke.

Using electronic cigarettes for a lifetime could be less harmful than 2 months of smoking. Sweden’s reduced harm programs have had great success transitioning many of its smokers to non-smoke tobacco products (especially snus).  Sweden now has one of the lowest smoking rates in the world.  This has inspired great optimism for tobacco harm reduction programs.  Sweden’s neighbor Finland is now trying to do the same.  Though more research still needs to be done, Phillips believes snus and electronic cigarettes cause roughly the same amount of harm (very little).  According to Phillips, switching to snus for the rest of your life is less detrimental to your health (assuming you’re an average smoker) than 2 more months of smoking.  “Time is of the essence,” says Phillips.

At a population level, only harm reduction programs have been proven to reduce smoking rates below one fifth. Many anti-smoking groups still cling to the hope that abstinence programming will work.  Phillips says these programs have yet to prove they can reduce smoking rates below 20%.  Reduced harm programs have already been shown to reduce smoking rates in a quantifiable way.  Sweden’s programs, which include encouraging use of snus instead of smoking, have reduced smoking among men there to 17%.

The Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA) is certainly doing a good job getting its message heard.  If you’re curious about the population-level implications of THR programs, listening to Phillips’ comments are a worthwhile investment of your time.

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