Govt encouraged to consider Tobacco harm reduction as key part of public health interventions

World No Tobacco Day: Over 5k people die from smoking in Ghana annually

World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) is observed around the world every year on 31 May. This yearly celebration informs the public on the dangers of smoking. This year’s focus is on the importance of Tobacco Harm Reduction as an important aspect of public-health approaches to combat smoking.

Data from the Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction indicates that 3.5% of the adult population of Ghana are smokers. This results in 5,012 dying every year from Tobacco-Related illnesses.

Tobacco harm reduction is about reducing the health impact of consuming tobacco. The greatest harm in consuming tobacco is caused by combustion (burning). By removing the element of combustion, the health impact is significantly reduced.

It is therefore important for Ghanaians to know the health implications of tobacco smoking while also advancing Tobacco Harm Reduction as a viable public health strategy. Harm Reduction Alliance believes that Tobacco Harm Reduction should be an integral part of Ghana’s public health agenda.

What is Tobacco Harm Reduction?

Tobacco Harm Reduction (THR) is a public health strategy that recognizes the harm caused by combustible cigarettes and aims to minimize the health impacts of cigarette smoking by encouraging those adult smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke to switch completely to scientifically substantiated, reduced-risk alternatives.

Tobacco harm reduction starts from the widely accepted proposition that most of the harm associated with conventional cigarettes is caused by inhaling the smoke produced by the combustion of tobacco – and not by nicotine. While nicotine is addictive, it is widely acknowledged that the cause of many smoking related illnesses are the toxicants in the smoke produced when tobacco is burned. Nicotine by itself isn’t a carcinogen, meaning alone it is not capable of causing cancer.

Nicotine has been used for decades in licensed medicinal products with such minimal risk that these products are available without prescription in most countries. (e.g., nicotine gum, nicotine patch). Products that can effectively and acceptably deliver nicotine without smoke have the potential to be less harmful than smoked tobacco.

For tobacco harm reduction to be successful, adult cigarette smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke need to have access to products that provide an enjoyable and less risky alternatives to smoking

Why is Tobacco Harm Reduction important as a public health strategy?

  1. Combustible Tobacco use is one of the leading causes of preventable morbidity and mortality globally. Combustible tobacco poses serious health risks
  2. THR as a public health strategy has been successful in countries such as Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Japan and Korea.
  3. Adult cigarette smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke need to have access to products that provide an enjoyable and less risky alternative to smoking.

Less risky products such as oral nicotine are an effective way to quit smoking. In February 2022, the European Parliament adopted, by a margin of 652 to 15 votes, a report on Cancer Prevention and Treatment acknowledging “that electronic cigarettes could allow some smokers to progressively quit smoking.” . Public Health England maintains vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking. We, therefore, believe that consumers should have access to the right information about Tobacco Harm Reduction as well as access to less risky products. Smokers should have the ability to switch from combustible nicotine products such as cigarettes to non-combustibles and less risky products such as oral nicotine.

We believe that it is important to implement Tobacco Harm Reduction as a part of the government’s public health strategy to ensure that citizens live healthier lives. We therefore call on the Ghanaian government and health authorities to consider Tobacco Harm Reduction as an integral aspect of the government’s public health approach.

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