President of the International Association on Smoking Control and Harm Reduction for better health (SCOHRE), Professor Ignatios Ikonomidis, has disclosed that the total number of smokers has increased, as populations have grown, despite the prevalence of smoking decreasing steadily around the globe.
Ikonomidis made the remarks at the opening of the sixth Summit on Tobacco Harm Reduction, which kicked off in Athens on Monday.
The objective of the 6th Summit is to offer opportunities for scientists of different countries to present, discuss, and challenge recent data, but also to provide an environment where regulatory authorities and policy makers may interact with the scientific and medical communities on the prospective course of action ‘For a Smoke-Free World.’
According to the expert, novel smoking products show a smaller emission of toxic substances compared to conventional cigarettes and there is an increasing interest in Tobacco Harm Reduction as a tool to reduce the detrimental consequences of cigarette smoking.
But Ikonomidis stated that more data is needed for politicians and public health regulators to make informed decisions.
In his remarks, Managing Director of Tamarind Intelligence of the United Kingdom (UK), Tim Phillips, said THR sector may still be small, but is growing fast.
Phillips said it is a fact that regulators must deal with a variety of different issues and in order to conclude to the best decisions they need more data.
“Also, data must be communicated, and the scientific community should be more active on presenting evidence-based findings to regulators, policy makers and the public. Besides the need for data-based policies, consumers’ confidence on THR is also an issue of high importance. Increasing awareness of consumers about the impact of smoking and the impact of novel lower-risk alternatives to combustible cigarettes is crucial,” he said.
In his presentation, Solomon Rataemane,Professor and Head of Department (Psychiatry Department, Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, South Africa), spoke about the evolution of the relevant legislation in South Africa since the first Act in 1993 until today that a new Bill on tobacco legislation is going through Public Hearings while Professor Giuseppe Biondi Zoccai, Associate Professor in Cardiology, Sapienza University of Rome, Italy,commented that although the wide variability in e-cigarette products makes it challenging to draw definitive conclusions about their overall health impact, and findings and conclusions of umbrella and systematic reviews can vary depending on scope of review, studies included, and methodologies used―professor Zoccai said―still, evidence from umbrella reviews show that e-cigarettes increase quit rates compared to nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), while evidence comparing nicotine e-cigs with usual care or no treatment also suggests benefit.
In his keynote speech exploring the financial aspects of smoking, Professor Andrzej Fal, President, Polish Society of Public Health, Poland, referred to an apparent conflict of interest created by the efforts for smoking cessation; on one hand they reduce the direct and indirect healthcare costs, but on the other hand they also reduce the income gained by excise and VAT taxes.
At an era when health expenditures keep growing, and while the total cost attributable to cigarette smoking reaches almost 2% of the world’s GDP, prevention –through lifestyle changes, reduction of behavioural risk factors and harm reduction– is the most effective way of investing in future health.
To stop the smoking pandemic and its financial and health effects we need to raise funding for primary prevention, as well as introduce a “less harm, less tax” regulation.
In a highly interesting keynote speech, Dr Marewa Glover, Director, Centre of Research Excellence: Indigenous Sovereignty & Smoking, New Zealand, gave an update on the recent legislative and regulatory changes in New Zealand concerning smoking and vaping, and presented preliminary research data about the barriers and misconceptions that prevent a part of smokers’ population from achieving smoking cessation.
She shared the preliminary data analysis of “Voices of the 5%” research, an ongoing longitudinal qualitative research, from 2020 to 2024, in 62 diverse adults (19-81 yrs) across New Zealand.
“We assume everyone knows that smoking kills, but some people really don’t know, Dr Glover said. We cannot ignore these people, we must focus more on health education in order to help them,” she added.