Prioritizing tobacco harm reduction: A vital step towards reducing premature deaths

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Current global practices to combat the devastating impact of tobacco-related deaths have fallen short, with the World Health Organization (WHO) estimating an annual toll of 8.5 million deaths, a number expected to rise to 10 million in the next five years.

Against this backdrop, a study titled ‘Integrating Harm Reduction into Tobacco Control’ has emerged. This study delves into the specific challenges faced by four Low Middle-Income Countries (LMICs) including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, and South Africa, where 350,000 lives are prematurely lost each year due to tobacco use.

In these countries, a noticeable gender gap in smoking rates contributes to disparities in life expectancy, worsened by the prevalent use of toxic products, particularly in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Smoking-related diseases consistently rank among the leading causes of death in these nations.

The report emphasizes the potential benefits of adopting a harm reduction approach.  It also underscores the time-sensitive nature of addressing tobacco-related diseases, highlighting that the full benefits of harm reduction takes decades to manifest.

The study also champions the adoption of THR products like e-cigarettes, oral nicotine pouches, snus, and heated tobacco products. Pakistan could save 1,200,000 lives in the next four decades, while Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, and South Africa could collectively prevent 1.405 million premature deaths.

The potential decline in smoking-related deaths, especially in LMICs like Pakistan, is substantial, with the spectrum of less harmful alternatives reducing toxic exposures by 80% and decreasing premature deaths by 70%.

The study emphasizes the critical role of governments in regulating alternative products proportionate to their health risks. Additionally, it advocates providing information about the less harmful impact of alternative products to adult tobacco users.

This comprehensive approach, involving government regulation, private sector innovation, and informed public awareness, is crucial to maximizing the potential benefits of harm reduction strategies.

As harm reduction strategies in tobacco control gain momentum globally, the study underscores its significance for LMICs, where over 1 billion people reside, facing a lack of awareness and poor detection of tobacco-related diseases. The transformative impact of adopting tobacco harm reduction strategies, like many developed countries such as the UK, US and Japan, and the declining use of combustibles is powerful evidence that this approach could save millions of lives in LMICs provided governments, WHO, and physicians play their roles in advocating for such policies and ensuring wider accessibility to these less harmful alternatives.



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