• April 24, 2024

Experts Concerned About Tobacco Control

 Experts Concerned About Tobacco Control
Photo: Andrey Popov

The Italian publication Formiche recently published a report raising concerns about the WHO’s tobacco control policies and strategies in combating smoking related diseases.

Titled, “Framework Convention on Tobacco Control: Challenges and Prospects for WHO,” the report  provides a comprehensive overview of the smoking crisis, the limitations of current tobacco control policies, and the role of harm reduction and non-combustion products. Additionally, it emphasizes the need for innovative strategies and a re-evaluation of the WHO’s approach to effectively combat the global smoking epidemic.

The report highlights how the FCTC has not considered harm reduction efforts which led to a deviation from the original stance of the WHO. Despite the FCTC’s efforts, the number of smokers have remained stable over the last 20 years, with the decrease in smoking rates being countered by the effects of population growth.

 It further suggests technology innovations that eliminate combustion, represent significant steps toward harm reduction. However, the FCTC, whilst acknowledging the potential of these innovations, has not adopted them, and discounts the growing body of science evidencing their potential. Experts state that the parties to the treaty have abandoned the core principle of harm reduction and ignored scientific evidence leading to misinformation amongst consumers.

“With 80-90 percent of alternative tobacco products being less toxic in comparison to combustibles, there is clearly a solution to reducing tobacco risk, but the world seems to be completely blindfolded. It is essential for tobacco control policies to respect human rights and consider the integration of the principles of risk reduction by adopting alternatives,” said Riccardo Polosa, professor of internal medicine at the University of Catania, in a statement.

With 80-90 percent of alternative tobacco products being less toxic in comparison to combustibles, there is clearly a solution to reducing tobacco risk, but the world seems to be completely blindfolded.

Riccardo Polosa, professor of internal medicine, University of Catania

“At the moment the biggest issue concerns the misinformation,” said Expressing his concern, Peter Hajek, director of Tobacco Dependence Research Unit of the Wolfson Institute of Public Health at Queen Mary University in London. “The public believes that tobacco alternatives are as dangerous as traditional cigarettes when they are much less dangerous, and people should be encouraged to use those less risky alternatives.”

Outlining an alternative approach, the report highlights the best practices in markets where alternatives have helped to accelerate the decline in smoking. Research suggests that a majority of Italian smokers support state-promoted information campaigns and research on non-combustion tobacco alternatives, according to Formiche. “A notable shift from traditional smoking to alternatives has been observed, with many smokers ceasing the use of cigarettes,” the report notes. “This suggests a strong substitution effect of new alternatives for cigarettes.”

The authors also point out that scientific evidence on alternatives has been evaluated positively by numerous regulatory bodies. In the U.S., for example, the Food and Drug Administration,  introduced the “Modified Risk Tobacco Products” category, recognizing products with reduced risks compared to traditional cigarettes.

Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, the Dutch RIVM, France’s Pasteur Institute, Belgium’s Superior Health Council and other European institutions have acknowledged the reduction of emissions and toxic substances in heated tobacco alternatives, albeit with caution about their overall health impact. Sweden’s approach toward smokeless alternatives has significantly reduced its smoking rate, achieving early targets set by the EU’s European Beating Cancer Plan.

The report’s author also worry about the tobacco control policies pursued by many low- and middle-income countries, which are home to 18 percent of the world’s smokers and where policies either ban alternative nicotine solutions entirely, or treat them like cigarettes.

The effect of these approaches, according to the report, is that smokers who do not quit, are not supported in changing to options that could present less risk to them. “The hope is that the forthcoming Conference of the Parties can represent an opportunity for public health but also, in the spirit of the United Nations, a moment of confrontation to guide policy choices based on established scientific evidence”, the report states.