Delegates to the 6th Summit on Tobacco Harm Reduction (THR) have called for the alignment of communication to fight misinformation on THR, stressing that people need to get clear and strong messages about the scientific evidence on the benefits of harm reduction products in order to counteract the misinformation launched by opposing parts.
The International Association on Smoking Control and Harm Reduction for better health (SCOHRE) is leading an alliance of THR organizations to align communication messages to fight false messages regarding the risk of novel products versus smoking following the emergence of mixed messages that affect the trust of consumers to governments and institutions.
Hence, the message of this year’s summit is that the resistance to harm reduction is increasing as penetration of alternative to tobacco novel products grows.
Martin Cullip, who spoke on behalf of the consumers, stressed the need to give out clear and strong messages about the scientific evidence on the benefits of harm reduction products in order to counteract the misinformation launched by opposing parts.
“We cannot allow these products to be banned now, as the WHO seems to wish, because we will have to wait for some 60 years before we can get them back,” Cullip said.
In his presentation, Professor Heino Stover cited a successful example of Sweden where there is a long-standing tradition of snus use, and is the first country in the EU to become smoke-free.
“The fact that a non-smoke nicotine delivery system was readily available and widely used seems to be the most likely explanation for Sweden’s great success in reducing smoking rates and smoking related disease,” Dr. Stover said, adding that the example of Sweden shows that accepting less risky nicotine administration saves lives.
Smoking prevalence remains very high in the Association of South-East Asian Nations―ASEAN―region, and harm reduction is received with scepticism.
In the first keynote speech of the day, Professor Sharifa Ezat Wan Puteh presented extensive and very interesting data about smoking and policies in the ASEAN region, which is a political and economic union of 10 states in South-East Asia that represents a population of over 600 million.
The region is no longer unanimously “anti-vape” as it was a decade ago when vaping started to get popular. Today, several countries have made vaping legal, while others continue out-law it. Smoking and vaping measures differ by country, as harm reduction approach does; impact on smoking rates also differs widely, but smoking prevalence remains high.
In his keynote speech, Professor Konstantinos Farsalinos discussed the complex sociopolitical and ethical aspects of tobacco control in the 21st century, focusing on Tobacco Harm Reduction and the obligation of politicians, regulators, and scientists to have an open-minded, honest, and evidence-based approach, beyond ideologies and prejudice.
“The truth is, he said, THR is a human rights issue. Harm Reduction is not just about reducing the harm from substance use, but is also about addressing stigma, marginalization, criminalization, inequalities, and oppression, in an effort to protect health, dignity and liberty, including the liberty of making informed personal choices.” Unfortunately, today the anti-harm reduction hysteria is becoming an authoritarian form of political correctness for smokers and for scientists with different views. But we all should not forget the provisional nature of scientific knowledge ―that proper scepticism is the foundation of intellectual progress, he concluded.
The Summit concluded with a panel discussion between eminent experts representing THR associations to explore how they can collaborate to create new opportunities for the education of health policy experts, regulators, and the public as well as advocating for new research to generate more data, for evidence-based policies.
Meanwhile, SCOHRE said it recognizes that harm reduction could make the lives of people better and has the ambition to try and get resources to build an Observatory of the smoking habit related to health outcomes in Europe.