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Global public health experts’ urge WHO to adopt scientific approach to policies, against tobacco harm reduction

Our Bureau, Bengaluru
Wednesday, July 14, 2021, 16:15 Hrs  [IST]

World Health Organisation (WHO) has been spearheading varied global awareness campaigns and coupled with traditional nicotine replacement methodologies, yet the number of smokers has remained over a billion since 2000. These include the year-long campaign for World No Tobacco Day’s (WNTD) on the theme of ‘Commit to Quit’.

Although the campaign aims to empower 100 million tobacco users to quit public health experts globally see that such initiatives rarely help smokers quit as 80% are from the low- and medium-income countries.

Most tobacco users and adult smokers even after best treatment go back to limited or previous patterns of tobacco use. Recent remarks by WHO around WNTD unfortunately reflect the rather regressive and inhibitive mindset of the institution. To this, in an open letter on tobacco harm reduction global advocates including David Abrams, Department of Social and Behavioral Science, NYU School of Global Public Health, New York University, Clive Bates, Former Director Action on Smoking and Health (UK) Prof. Raymond Niaura, Department of Social and Behavioral Science, NYU School of Global Public Health, New York University and David Sweanor, Chair of the Advisory Board of the Centre for Health Law, Policy and Ethics, University of Ottawa, Canada; presented their differing views.

The letter highlighted WHO misrepresenting risks and denying the value of switching to safer alternatives, ignoring compelling scientific data backed evidence.

Additionally, a group of experts sent letters to Asia Pacific’s health ministers and secretaries to express their deep concern about the WHO’s Latest Tobacco Product Regulation Report. The Expert Advisory Group of the Coalition of Asia Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates warned that WHO’s study group was not acting in public health’s best interests by recommending bans on all aspects of vaping.

In India, estimates by the ministry of health and family welfare indicate at least 2,500 of the 3,750 fatalities due to tobacco use every day, are caused due to smoking.

The role of e-cigarettes and Tobacco Harm Reduction (THR) technologies are working to enable smokers who are otherwise unable to quit combustible products to switch to safer nicotine alternatives.

Smoke-free tobacco and nicotine products displace smoking, and they are part of the solution, not part of the problem. The onus now lies with WHO to push innovative, effective, and compassionate solutions to accelerate an end to this global epidemic, said the experts.


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