KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 11 ― Leading experts in the field of science and technology as well as policy and consumer advocacy believe that harm reduction can play an important role in improving public health.
At the fourth Asia Harm Reduction Forum 2021 which was held virtually in late July, they gathered to discuss and share information on various harm-reduction approaches.
Professor David Sweanor, the Chair of the Center for Health Law, Policy and Ethics and an adjunct professor of law at the University of Ottawa, Canada said harm reduction as a way to tackle tobacco consumption is necessary as an estimated eight million people die each year from smoking-related diseases.
"We have known the risks from smoking for many decades. We have known that it is the smoke, not the nicotine that is responsible. We also know that we can deliver nicotine in ways that have minimal risk.
"We know the smokers will move to those products and they will move to those products in significant numbers," he added, referring to smoke-free products such as e-cigarettes or vapes, snus and heated tobacco products.
He said that countries like Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Japan and Korea have made significant progress in bringing down their smoking rates by encouraging smokers to switch to smoke-free and less harmful products.
"As a result, Sweden’s rates of tobacco-related illness and death are by far the lowest that you can see in the European Union. Their smoking rates are now low enough that many people would call it a smoke-free society.
"When Norway allowed snus products to be more widely available, cigarette smoking fell by half in just 10 years. When Iceland allowed both vaping products and snus into the market, smoking fell by about 40 per cent in just three years," he said.
He said Japan also saw a big decline in smoking by 42 per cent in just five years after reduced risk products came into the market. Similarly, he expects Korea to reduce cigarette smoking by over 40 per cent in three years for the same reason.
"We are now seeing many other countries with vaping products and these countries are rapidly moving away from cigarette smoking," he added.
Experts are in agreement that countries like Malaysia where smoking has plateaued for more than a decade can benefit from implementing tobacco harm reduction strategies.
Reducing smoking is an important public health issue and the government needs to consider how harm reduction strategies can help it achieve its goal of lowering the country’s smoking prevalence to 15 per cent by 2025.