To date, the world has lost an estimated 3.8 million people to COVID-19; a devastating figure that is, sadly, less than half the annual death toll from smoking . Every day, 1.1 billion smokers still light up around the world, a number that has stalled for over 20 years despite decades of tobacco control efforts. Eighty per cent of the world's smokers live in LMIC, least able to cope with the disease burden of smoking and in higher income countries, smoking is a major cause of health inequalities.
People smoke to obtain nicotine, a comparatively low-risk substance, but are harmed by thousands of toxins released when tobacco burns. Experts at the Global Forum on Nicotine will discuss an approach called tobacco harm reduction; adult smokers who cannot quit nicotine are encouraged to switch from dangerous combustible or oral products to safer nicotine products including vapes (e-cigarettes), pasteurised snus, non-tobacco nicotine pouches and heated tobacco devices. Compared to continued smoking, all are significantly less harmful to health.
"We now need a “Frank Statement” for our times—a commitment from all parties to prioritize the end of the tobacco epidemic", said Derek Yach, the founder and president of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World. This would entail five key commitments.
1. Industry must commit to ending the sale of combustible cigarettes.
2. Industry must commit to ending youth nicotine use in all forms.
3. Industry must commit to sharing IP with companies currently selling combustibles in LMICs.
4. The WHO and governments must commit to revising the FCTC to explicitly build a risk- proportionate regulatory system.
5. Leading cancer, tuberculosis, lung, psychiatry, and heart NGOs must commit to science- based strategies for ending smoking among high-risk patients.
“The first thing I would do is focus on education and awareness building campaigns on THR products, and build a team of people that would care about smokers - make harmreduction the key of tobacco control", Nataliia Toropova, the Head of the Healthy Initiatives, NGO.
GFN director Professor Gerry Stimson, emeritus professor at Imperial College London, said, "Up to 98 million consumers worldwide have already made the switch to safer nicotine products. In England, health authorities support vaping to quit smoking and vapes are now the most popular quit aid. Tobacco-related mortality in Sweden, where snus has almost replaced smoking, is the lowest in Europe. And in Japan, cigarette sales have dropped by a third since heated tobacco products came to market. Manufacturers must now ensure safer alternatives are affordable to people in LMIC, not just consumers in high income nations."
Professor Stimson continued, "Worryingly, international tobacco control leaders are doggedly pursuing an irresponsible prohibitionist approach to tobacco and nicotine, while the WHO actively perpetuates misinformation on new nicotine products. Public health will not be served nor lives saved by a war on nicotine, as doomed to failure as the war on drugs. The WHO must refocus its efforts on supporting 1.1 billion adult smokers to quit by all available means."