The regulation of smoke-free products such as vapes, snus, nicotine pouches and heated tobacco products provide countries the best opportunity to address the smoking problem, public health and consumer advocates said in the recently-concluded Global Forum on Nicotine 2022.
Misinformation and restrictive policies such as bans and higher taxes on these smoke-free products, however, are preventing many low and middle-income countries from helping adults smokers, they said in a panel discussion during the GFN 2022 held in Warsaw, Poland.
Federico Fernández, executive director of Argentina-based Somos Innovación, said vaping and other alternatives are giving humanity the best chance to end the problem of smoking. Unfortunately, existing regulations are more stringent on these smoke-free products than combustible cigarettes which they are supposed to replace.
“Safer alternatives could play a central role in decreasing morbidity and mortality associated with tobacco product usage,” said Dr. Rachel Murkett, project director of life sciences consulting firm Biochromex in a separate discussion.
Participants in GFN 2022 blamed influential anti-vaping groups for spreading misinformation about nicotine and smoke-free products. Dr. Roberto Sussman of the National University of Mexico said that, “anti-vaping sources such as the World Health Organization, academics, regulators, anti-tobacco NGOs, groups funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies act as merchants of doubt when citing and quoting flawed studies to cast unjustified doubt and confusion on the safety of vaping”.
Some groups in the Philippines, for example, continue to call for the ban on smoke-free alternatives, which are found by science to be less harmful than cigarettes.
Tobacco harm reduction, a public health approach that involves the use of less harmful nicotine products compared to combustible cigarettes, is expected help LMICs address the smoking epidemic that kills 8 million people annually, GFN participants said.
THR consists of pragmatic policies, regulations and actions that reduce health risks to individuals and communities by providing access to less harmful forms of products or substances, or encouraging less risky behaviors.
Vapes (e-cigarettes), nicotine pouches, Swedish snus and HTPs, which have been shown in multiple independent, international research studies to be significantly less harmful than smoking tobacco, are among the alternative nicotine products identified during the GFN 2022.
Misinformation, however, contaminates the discussion on tobacco harm reduction, and this is particularly detrimental to LMICs.