Are smoke-free alternatives the game changer we need?

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For decades, cigarette smoking has remained one of the top, persistent threats to global public health, and while the fight against its harms has also been as old as the problem itself, there has been only little progress in protecting the health of smokers. The World Health Organisation estimates there are approximately 1.1 billion smokers in the world today – and by 2025, the number is predicted to roughly remain the same. This means that despite the well-known harms of smoking and the many tobacco control measures taken by governments and health authorities worldwide, a billion people from the world over continue to put their health at risk.

Research shows that in any given year, more than nine out of ten smokers will continue to smoke. This indicates that ongoing tobacco control and cessation measures are not effective. Of course, quitting smoking completely is the best option for a smoker, but for people who would otherwise continue to smoke, there are now alternatives, such as e-cigarettes, nicotine pouches, snus, and heated tobacco products (HTPs), that are scientifically proven to be considerably less harmful than cigarettes and have the potential to bring down cigarette consumption.

These products, known as smoke-free alternatives, do not burn tobacco and thus do not produce smoke which is the main culprit behind most of the diseases caused by cigarettes as burning the tobacco leads to the release of toxins that are majorly associated with a variety of lung and heart diseases. Thesmoke-free nature of these products makes them a less harmful alternative to cigarettes and they have been scientifically substantiated to significantly reduce exposure to harmful chemicals compared to cigarettes. Most smoke-free products contain nicotine which, while not risk-free, is not the primary cause of smoking-related diseases. This helps adult smokers to easily switch to these less harmful alternatives to get their nicotine fix, instead of continuing to smoke cigarettes which are considerably more harmful.

The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that e-cigarettes “have the potential to benefit adult smokers who are not pregnant if used as a complete substitute for regular cigarettes and other smoked tobacco products.”England may also officially license smoke-free products as a medicine to help smokers curb cigarette use. This move has come out in view of the increasing smoking-related deaths reported in the country in the past years and the scientific evidence that shows how smoke-free products are far less harmful than cigarettes.

For Pakistan, a country where 22 million people smoke cigarettes , there is immense potential for science-backed smoke-free alternatives to be used as an additional pillar to existing tobacco control strategies to bring down cigarette use in the country and reduce harm to the health of adult smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke. The need now is to regulate these less harmful alternatives so adult smokers have access to accurate information about productsthat might pose lower risk to them than continued smoking so they may make informed decisions for their health.

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