Human beings are regularly engaging in activities and behaviors that may be risky for them. But science and technological advancements have transformed the way we live. Using these advancements to reduce the negative effects of our potentially harmful behavior is called “harm reduction”.
For instance, driving a car can expose one to the risk of getting into an accident, but airbags, seatbelts, and other such innovations make accidents less likely, and where they can’t be avoided, prevent fatalities. That’s harm reduction. The same strategy is now gaining popularity in promoting better health for smokers, termed as “Tobacco Harm Reduction”.
The best course of action adult smokers can take to improve their health is, of course, to quit smoking altogether. However, millions of smokers still continue to smoke. Helping these adult smokers, who would otherwise continue to smoke, to switch to alternatives that are scientifically substantiated to be less harmful than cigarettes is the next best option and the basis of Tobacco Harm Reduction.
For smokers, the greatest risk comes from the burning of tobacco, and the smoke released as a result by cigarettes has been found to be associated with the majority of smoking-related diseases. Alternatives, including e-cigarettes, nicotine pouches, heated tobacco products and snuff, do not burn tobacco, are smokeless, and are scientifically-proven to be less-harmful than cigarettes. They are specifically developed for adult smokers which allow them to reduce the negative effects to their health otherwise caused by cigarettes.
Various scientific researches and scientific communities have lent support to Tobacco Harm Reduction as an effective means of reducing the harmful health effects of tobacco consumption, with some countries now developing science-based policies to regulate reduced-risk alternatives. The Canadian Public Health Association, in recognition of the efficacy of Tobacco Harm Reduction, acknowledged that smokeless, alternative products are less risky than cigarettes. Recently, the European Parliament has also adopted a resolution on cancer prevention and treatment that endorses the potential contribution of Tobacco Harm Reduction for tobacco control and recognized that switching to a less-harmful alternative represents a risk reduction for adult smokers.
Dr. Kiran Melkote, Associate Consultant, Orthopedics’, Fortis Bone and Joint Institute, in a webinar titled “Reframing Societal Views on Harm Reduction: A Medical and Scientific Perspective”, said “People who consume tobacco should be given a chance to quit, but if they aren’t able to then they should be given harm reducing products. Most of the people smoke for nicotine. If you delink nicotine from tobacco harm, you can reduce the harm.”
While nicotine is not risk-free, it is not the primary cause of smoking-related diseases. Providing access to an alternative nicotine source that is scientifically-proven to be less harmful than cigarettes can be, thus, an efficient tool to reduce the harm to adult smokers’ health.
So, while the best decision is to never start smoking, and to quit cigarettes if one smokes, the next option for adult smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke would be to help them switch to a Tobacco Harm Reduction approach that may prove to be a practical tool to help them along the way to live a less-harmful life.