Is there a need for Pakistan to reevaluate its tobacco control policy in new light?

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Mobashir Sandela

The world is embracing electronic cigarettes, vapes, heated tobacco products (HTPs) and other electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDs) as harm-reduction alternatives to combustible tobacco products.

It has been confirmed through several independent sources that these products are relatively lessharmful than conventional cigarettes for smokers and also eliminate the risk of passive smoking for non-smokers and the environment.

Several countries including USA, New Zealand, Japan among others have developed comprehensive smoke-free agendas and modern tobacco control policies that are less prohibitionist and are more consumer centric in their approach to eliminating the harm posed by smoking – with great speed and progress.

The UK is perhaps at the fore-front in developing a progressive and evidence-based policy on tobacco control, including vapes as an integral part of their fight against smoking.

Public Health England’s research states that vaping is up to 95% less harmful than cigarettes, and just recently the Health Secretary has outlined his vision that would allow the NHS to prescribe non-combustible products such as vapes and e-cigarettes to smokers so that they are able to switch to less harmful alternatives than smoking.

Similarly, in Thailand the Minister of Digital Economy and Society (DES)has also announced his plans to legalize e-cigarettes to help adult smokers quit smoking.

As Asian countries, along with several major economies,are adopting and regularizing e-smoking in hopes of achieving better public health, why should Pakistan stay behind?
The trend of cigarette smoking continues to grow in developing countries including Pakistan due to steady population growth, low prices, lack of awareness about its dangers and other factors.

There are approximately 24 million smokers in Pakistan, out of which 160 thousand people die from tobacco smoking annually.

Pakistan became a Party to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2005 but the menace of cigarette smoking is still far from being in control.

This suggests that something about the approach we are taking is not effective – something other countries around the world have realized, and which is why they have actively changed their strategies from being outright prohibitionist, to more progressive.

And they are seeing the positive results in terms of better quit rates as a result of adopting these policies.

Pakistan needs to renew and improve its tobacco control policies and work towards integrating regulated use of less-harmful tobacco alternatives in its policy for smoking.

When consumers don’t have access to proper information due to unregulated, smuggled products in the market, there is no check or balance and so regulation is very important.

This calls for an urgent re-examination of tobacco control policyto regulatethe use of less-harmful alternatives and to curb harm associated with combustible smoking.

Through these measures smokers can be educated regarding the harm caused by conventional cigarettes and equipped with the knowledge of less harmful tobacco alternatives to aid them in their journey to quit smoking.

Regulating reduced-risk alternatives in no way means normalizing smoking. These alternatives are simply a modern and smoker-centric method to reduce the harm caused by cigarette smoking.

John Newton, director of health improvement at Public Health England said, “If you don’t smoke, don’t vape, but if you smoke there is no situation where it would be better for your health to continue smoking rather than switching completely to vaping.”

With less than 3% of smokers being able to completely quit smoking per year, Pakistan needs to make modern, smoke-free alternatives to cigarettes available for consumers to promote better public health – for smokers and non-smokers alike.

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