Fifty-three specialists in nicotine science and public health policy have written to the World Health Organization expressing their concern that the strategy of tobacco harm reduction seems to have been overlooked or even marginalized in the run-up to the next meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
The specialists are believed to have been alerted to the problem by the contents of a leaked document from an FCTC preparatory meeting ahead of the COP6 meeting in Moscow in October.
In a letter dated May 26 and addressed to the WHO’s director general, Dr. Margaret Chan, the specialists said that because of the toll of death, disease and misery attributed to tobacco by the WHO (up to one billion preventable tobacco-related premature deaths this century), it was necessary to be relentless in the search for all possible, practical, ethical and lawful ways to reduce this burden.
“We have known for years that people ‘smoke for the nicotine, but die from the smoke’: the vast majority of the death and disease attributable to tobacco arises from inhalation of tar particles and toxic gases drawn into the lungs,” said the specialists in their letter that was copied to the FCTC Secretariat, Parties to the FCTC and WHO regional offices.
“There are now rapid developments in nicotine-based products that can effectively substitute for cigarettes but with very low risks. These include for example, e-cigarettes and other vapour products, low nitrosamine smokeless tobacco such as snus, and other low-risk, noncombustible nicotine or tobacco products that may become viable alternatives to smoking in the future.
“Taken together, these tobacco harm reduction products could play a significant role in meeting the 2025 UN noncommunicable disease (NCD) objectives by driving down smoking prevalence and cigarette consumption. Indeed, it is hard to imagine major reductions in tobacco-related NCDs without the contribution of tobacco harm reduction.
“Even though most of us would prefer people to quit smoking and using nicotine altogether, experience suggests that many smokers cannot or choose not to give up nicotine and will continue to smoke if there is no safer alternative available to them.”
The specialists went on to suggest 10 principles that should underpin the public health approach to tobacco harm reduction, with global leadership from the WHO.