Tobacco harm reduction advocates warned that consumers stand to suffer from prohibitive policies imposed by authorities against smoke-free nicotine products such as electronic cigarettes, heat-not-burn tobacco products, and snus.

Philippine representative to the Coalition of Asia Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates (CAPHRA) Clarisse Virgino made the statement after attending the online conference of the Global Forum on Nicotine from 11 to 12 June 2020.

“It’s a sad thought that in this ruckus, consumers become the collateral damage—the one that, in the end, will suffer, if prohibitive policies will be put in place,” said Virgino during the annual conference organized by London-based Knowledge Action Change Limited to discuss the merits of tobacco harm reduction (THR) products such as e-cigarettes, heat-not-burn tobacco products and snus as safer alternatives to combustible cigarettes.

Virgino said governments in their attempt to strengthen public health policies end up disregarding the very core of it—people.

“Consumers and their rights should be protected under these policies. I think it’s just unfair and wrong, in so many levels, to disregard consumers in creating policies surrounding THR. As they say, there is nothing about us, without us,” she said.

More than 600 individuals participated in the 2020 forum to listen to presentations from 30 expert speakers on the theme “Nicotine: science, ethics and human rights”.

“Prohibiting THR products such as e-cigarettes or vape, HnB devices, and snus will not just affect people who have already made the switch. This will affect people who are still trying to quit regular combustible cigarettes, depriving them of their right to do the switch, or basically, just to choose.  A person’s right to choose is not just a consumer right, but it’s a basic human right,” Virgino said.

Smoke-free nicotine products are considered a part of THR—a public health strategy that aims to provide alternatives to reduce risks caused by smoking cigarettes.   

“Tobacco harm reduction is good public health. It starts with the people who matter—people who smoke, and people who have switched to a chosen alternative—and it fosters and encourages change. Tobacco harm reduction is not antithetical to tobacco control; it should be part of it,” said GFN conference director Professor Gerry Stimson, emeritus professor at Imperial College London and a former honorary professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

The forum discussed the latest evidence on the interplay between nicotine, smoking and Covid-19; the impact of the deliberate and continued misattribution of the so-called ‘EVALI’ lung-injury crisis to nicotine vaping instead of illicit THC; moral panics over low youth vaping rates taking precedence over the health of millions of adult smokers and vapers and Big Philanthropy’s effect on global public health.

Speakers during the forum warned that the smoking epidemic could kill more than 7 million people this year, greater than the expected deaths from Covid-19.  “Tobacco is the real pandemic.  It is on track to kill five times as many people as Covid-19,” said Dr. John Oyston, a medical doctor from Canada.

Participants highlighted the need for 1.1 billion smokers and millions of adults who have switched away from smoking, to access appropriately regulated safer nicotine products such as vapes (e-cigarettes), Swedish snus, nicotine pouches and heat-not-burn tobacco products.

This is because it has been known for decades that it is the combustion or the burning of tobacco, and the release and inhalation of smoke, that causes diseases. Nicotine itself is not considered a carcinogen, according to health experts.

Unlike combustible cigarettes which are being linked to 20,000 deaths a day globally, THR products do not produce smoke as they deliver nicotine by heating, and not burning tobacco.

The International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations (INNCO) Vice President, Samrat Chowdhery said in the same forum that people involved in the tobacco trade, especially in low and middle-income countries, oppose THR products for fear of revenue losses.

“Given the lucrativeness of tobacco trade and the amount of tax revenue it generates, the state has always historically owned and operated this business. While the western nations ceded control over the last century, many LMICs, especially in Latin America and Asia, continue to partially or wholly-own tobacco companies,” said Chowdery.

He said this resulted in serious implications such as conflict of interest, which raises questions about the state’s intent in reducing use of tobacco products when it directly profits from their sale.

About 80 percent of the world’s 1.1 billion smokers live in LMICs such as India and the Philippines. (ia/SovereignPH.com)