The Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction (GSTHR)

An end to smoking is within reach, according to at least one group, and it must not be allowed to slip away. It is a viewpoint that augurs good things for the vaping industry.

In a landmark new report titled The Right Side of History: The Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction 2022 (GSTHR), experts are calling on global policymakers to seize the opportunity to bring about an end to smoking, which every year kills eight-million people worldwide.

Knowledge-Action-Change Limited (K-A-C) is a London, England-based private organization founded by Professor Gerry Stimson in 2011, along with its communications arm, KAC Communications, in 2014. It is funded by the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (FSFW), which is in turn funded by Philip Morris International (PMI).

“Despite years of investment and effort, international tobacco control measures have stalled: the number of smokers has remained static at 1.1 billion for 20 years,” the group points out in a release. “But the past two decades have also seen the emergence of new options to reduce smoking-related death and disease, which are not caused by nicotine, but by thousands of chemicals released when tobacco burns.”

Tobacco harm reduction encourages people who smoke and who either cannot, or do not want to stop using nicotine, to switch to significantly safer products, such as vapes or e-cigarettes. Other methods include tobacco-free nicotine pouches, Swedish-style snus and heated tobacco products. GSTHR estimates show that over 112 million people already use these products worldwide. “Yet these significantly safer products face prohibitive regulation or bans in many countries, while the sale of deadly combustible cigarettes is universally legal.”

Strategy to End Smoking
K-A-C’s The Right Side of History charts the story of tobacco harm reduction to date, and considers the future for a strategy that could end smoking. The disruptive potential of safer nicotine products – to public health, to governments and regulators, and to commercial interests – has been, it judges, “significant and is not yet fully realized.”

In the report, author Harry Shapiro documents the search for safer ways to use nicotine, which has been “beset with many false starts.” He explores the role of individual innovators and nicotine consumers in the development of safer products and harm reduction, the establishment of the Chinese vaping industry, and the mistrust seeded by the late entrance of the traditional tobacco industry into the safer product market, the release noted. “It has also led to the spread of mis- and disinformation, which is currently inhibiting the potential of safer products to save lives.”

At the report’s launch, GSTHR project lead Stimson argued that policymakers must integrate tobacco harm reduction into the international response to smoking, giving millions of adult smokers new choices to support them to quit. "Ideology must be set aside in favor of an openness to new thinking, and a critical but balanced evaluation of the science. Evidence shows that people will switch away from deadly smoking to safer nicotine products if they are given the chance. An end to smoking is within reach -- we must not let it slip from our grasp."

“It was individuals working outside the tobacco industry who pursued innovations that began the journey towards modern safer nicotine products,” a summary within the report contended. “A Chinese pharmacist developed the vapor technology that would kickstart a quiet revolution in safer nicotine consumption: the e-cigarette. A new industry sprang up in the city of Shenzhen in China in the 2000’s – and consumers worldwide began to adopt the products.”

People who smoke “should have the right to access lowerrisk products that evidence shows are amongst the most effective tools for cessation,” the report argued. To this end, consumer advocacy organizations have formed worldwide, and have had some notable successes in retaining that right in some countries and regions. “Yet, at the highest levels of international policymaking, these people are barred from participation in decisions that directly affect their health.”

The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control includes harm reduction, it added, “but the approach has been ignored in its implementation to date. In light of new developments in nicotine consumption, and in consideration of the fundamental human right to health, harm reduction now can and should be incorporated into international and national tobacco control efforts.”

Experts Say
Among the experts and organizations quoted by the group about the need for e-cigarettes and other tobacco harm reduction items are these:

Public Health England: “Our new review reinforces the finding that vaping is a fraction of the risk of smoking, at least 95% less harmful, and of negligible risk to bystanders. Yet over half of smokers either falsely believe that vaping is as harmful as smoking or just don’t know.”

The New Zealand Ministry of Health: “The Ministry considers vaping products could disrupt inequities and contribute to a Smokefree 2025. The evidence on vaping products indicates they carry much less risk than smoking cigarettes… Evidence is growing that vaping can help people to quit smoking. There is no international evidence that vaping products are undermining the long-term decline in cigarette smoking among adults and youth and may in fact be contributing to it.”