[Column] Joseph Magero: Tackling tobacco harm in the era of misinformation
Everyone wants to reduce the approximately 30,000 annual tobacco-related deaths in Kenya; so it’s especially disappointing to see the nay-sayers undermining our best opportunity to do just that.
Tobacco harm reduction products, such as e-cigarettes and tobacco-free nicotine pouches, are quickly proving to be the most effective and safest alternatives for smokers who want to switch from traditional cigarettes, but who want to continue enjoying nicotine or who are struggling to quit altogether.
They are an innovative option for thousands of smokers previously confronted with the ‘quit or die’ scenario, as they focus on short-term attainable goals rather than long-term ideals.
And these alternative products have been developed with the knowledge that the real harm from traditional cigarettes is caused by the burning of tobacco, which releases thousands of disease-causing toxicants. E-cigarettes and nicotine pouches don’t burn tobacco and therefore deliver nicotine with a dramatically reduced risk.
There are literally hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific papers assessing these products, and the reviews by public health institutions across the world indicate that these products have a much lower risk profile than cigarettes. 24 of the world’s leading public health institutions publicly support the use of vaping in their public smoking cessation campaigns.
And it is notable that many of these institutions come from countries ranked as having the lowest levels of tobacco industry interference in Government policies.
When readily available, reduced risk alternatives act as an effective tobacco harm reduction tool and provide smokers with the option to choose safer alternatives over cancer-inducing cigarettes.
For example, the effectiveness of “Swedish snus”, a type of modified oral tobacco pouch, in reducing smoking incidence and tobacco related disease is evident in Sweden, where there is the highest consumption of pouches and the lowest smoking rates in Europe. Tellingly, the Swedish rate of tobacco-related lung cancer for men is less than half the EU average.
So, for activists to spread disinformation that might deter smokers from switching to these products is downright dangerous.
We need a balanced approach to alternative nicotine products and not a knee-jerk reaction, as they are clearly designed to help smokers successfully move away from tobacco.
Not only are they effective, they cost Government nothing while helping to reduce the disease burden from smoking. The risk we should most definitely avoid is to allow disinformation to block smokers from switching to tobacco-free alternatives that help reduce smoking-related disease.