Going smoke-free: the regulatory aspect
THE best advice anyone can give to a smoker is to quit smoking immediately, but we know it is easier said than done, given the number of adults around us who continue to light cigarettes despite knowing the harms of this habit.
The harmful chemicals that lead to smoking-related diseases are present in cigarette smoke which is the result of the burning of tobacco in the cigarette. By eliminating this burning process, the harm associated with cigarettes can be lowered significantly. As a solution, several non-combustible alternatives to cigarettes, such as e-cigarettes, vapes, Heated Tobacco Products (HTPs), nicotine pouches etc., have been introduced over the years, supported by significant scientific evidence that proves that these alternatives can serve as less harmful substitutes for smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke cigarettes.
The growing urgency around eliminating the use of cigarettes and saving people from the harm caused by smoking have resulted in strict laws upon the consumption of cigarettes around the world. While this move is much needed for achieving better public health, it does not take into account the fact that smokers find it difficult to leave this habit cold-turkey. The present regulations treat every tobacco product in the same light and do not recognize the potential these modern alternatives hold in helping a billion smokers, who intend to continue smoking, to reduce the health risks posed to them by cigarettes.
Lamenting the neglect from regulatory bodies towards the scientific evidence behind the potential of less-harmful alternatives Dr. Colin Mendelsohn, an Australia-based General Physician and the founding chairman of the Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association, said, “For decades, tobacco control and public health organizations have sought to stigmatize tobacco, nicotine, smoking and smokers. The invention of vaping, a far safer nicotine alternative which looks like smoking, is a threat to their strongly-held views and the traditional approach.”
Majority smokers are not even aware of the alternative avenues they can switch to if they are unable to quit but wish to reduce harm to their health. The reason is that the regulators tend to apply same policies to all tobacco products even when scientific evidence suggests otherwise. In fact, in most countries, the current regulatory framework was drawn up before e-cigarettes or other smokeless alternatives were even invented.
Obviously, these products need to be adequately regulated and policies such as setting a minimum-age-of-purchaseshould be strictly implemented but outdated tobacco control policies should be revised and adapted to incorporate these innovative technologies.
Several countries are now working on modifying their laws and have issued new guidelines to promote the use of less harmful products for adult smokers and reduce the burden of cigarettes on public health. New Zealand, for example has developed comprehensive strategies to promote use of vaping and e-cigarettes among existing smokers with the goal of creating a smoke-free society by 2025. Recently, Thailand announced its plans to legalize e-cigarettes to help adult smokers quit cigarettes and reduce harm to their health. Japan has also been working on smoke-free agendas to encourage smokers to switch to reduced-risk alternatives. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also authorized the marketing of one type of HTP as “Modified Risk Tobacco Product”, citing that if marketed with authorized information, these products can help adult smokers transition away from cigarettes and reduce their exposure to harmful chemicals.
With respect to these modified amendments in tobacco control laws all over the world, the tobacco control policy in Pakistan also needs to be revised to categorize and appropriately regulate less-harmful tobacco products in order to reduce risk for smokers in the country.
However, although these countries have proactively approached this matter, much more needs to be done to provide relief to more than a billion smokers around the world. If regulators pay heed to the scientific evidence available on the effectiveness of these less harmful, smokeless alternatives and treat them accordingly, it could dramatically reduce the number of smokers global.