Countries with high smoker population should support harm reduction

MELBOURNE – Countries with high populations of smokers such as the Philippines should support tobacco harm reduction programs for people who are unable or unwilling to quit smoking, experts said here yesterday.

Colin Mendelsohn, a conjoint associate professor at the School of Public Health and Community Medicine of the University of New South Wales, Sydney, said governments should look at alternative tobacco products, including e-cigarettes or “vapes,” heat-not-burn devices and other noncombustible products as harm reduction strategy to curb smoking-related deaths.

“It (e-cigarette) is not restrained, nothing is restrained, but at least it is 95 percent safer (than combustible tobacco),” Mendelsohn said at the 9th International City Health Conference organized by the Progressive Public Health Alliance.

Mendelsohn added there is no credible evidence of a youth vaping epidemic even in the US, noting the deaths of 18 people in the country have nothing to do with nicotine vaping.

The deaths and their links to vaping are in fact still being investigated by US federal authorities, and no conclusions have been reached. Among the issues being investigated is the improper marketing of the products specifically targeting youths.

World health authorities have also issued warnings on the health risks posed by vaping and e-cigarettes. Health advocates worldwide are also seeking stronger regulation of such alternatives to cigarettes.

Mendelsohn lamented that in Australia, “tobacco harm reduction is part of health policy in theory but not in practice.”

Last year, the Philippines’ House of Representatives unanimously adopted a resolution urging the Department of Health to promote harm reduction measures as part of its National Tobacco Control Strategy, especially the use of electronic cigarettes or vapes as a less harmful alternative for smokers.

Leading multinational tobacco company Philip Morris International (PMI) is targeting to commercialize its smoke-free IQOS devices in the Philippines soon.

IQOS heats the tobacco just enough to release a flavorful nicotine-containing tobacco vapor but without burning the tobacco, which is said to be the major problem, not the nicotine.

The Philippines is home to 16 million smokers, or about 23.8 percent of the adult population.

However, only a small percentage of Filipinos want to quit smoking and an even smaller number will actually succeed in quitting smoking, according to the data from the Harm Reduction Alliance of the Philippines.

Original article from Philstar: https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2019/10/05/1957518/countries-high-smoker-population-should-support-harm-reduction