Cigar smokers can switch to lower risk products

On December 7, 2022

Cigarette smokers have a plethora of products available to them that reduce the harm caused by smoking, writes BONISILE MAKHUBU.

These include e-cigarettes, nicotine patches, and chewing gums, which were developed to reduce the harm caused by cigarette smoking, the most dangerous form of tobacco use and the leading cause of preventable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

During a Harm Reduction Exchange last week in Nairobi, Kenya, under the theme ‘Harm Reduction: Making a Difference in Africa,’ it was stated that traditional cessation and smoking prevention norms are not the only ways that smokers who are unable or unwilling to quit can make healthier choices that cause less harm to themselves and those around them.

“These innovative harm reduction initiatives will save the lives of more Africans.” Harm Reduction is a powerful public health tool with the potential to reduce cancer by 30% and should be at the heart of all public health development strategies,” said Professor Abdoul Kassé, a world-renowned and award-winning oncologist and Professor of Surgery at Senegal’s Cancer Institute.

One of the reasons for the slow progress in implementing harm reduction programmes on the African continent has been cited as a lack of informing and sensitising cigarette smokers about the availability and benefits of alternative, potentially lower-risk products to cigarettes.

During a two-day meeting attended by journalists from 15 African countries, issues impeding harm-reduction processes were discussed. The meeting’s goal was to devise new strategies to accelerate tobacco harm reduction efforts in Africa.

The journalists came from Southern, West, and East African countries to attend a Tobacco Harm Reduction Exchange in Nairobi, Kenya. Eswatini, Nigeria, Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe were among the countries represented at the two-day meeting.

Dr Tendai Mhizha, Principal of Integra Africa, emphasised the importance of journalists and media outlets in dealing with misinformation and disinformation in the tobacco harm reduction discourse, which is actually perpetuating the death and disease caused by people continuing to smoke combustible cigarettes.

“There has been a lot of misinformation about nicotine and the alleged negative effects of e-cigarettes on public health. This has resulted in risk-reducing policies and narratives that completely deny their benefits. The media bears the difficult responsibility of combating the scourge of disinformation and misinformation on harm reduction, as well as other socio-political stances that are prescriptive and do not support consumers’ right to healthier lifestyle choices,” Dr Mhizha said.

According to Dr Vivian Manyeki of Kenya, tobacco harm reduction has a strong scientific and medical foundation, and it holds great promise as a public health measure to help millions of smokers.

“Many smokers are unable, or unwilling, to quit through complete nicotine and tobacco abstinence. They continue to smoke despite the very real and obvious negative health consequences, as well as the numerous public health campaigns. Traditional smoking cessation proposals should be supplemented with alternative but more realistic options such as Harm Reduction, “ said Dr Manyeki.

Ms Bernice Opondi, Joseph Magero, Jonathan Fell, Chimwemwe Ngoma, Clive Bates, and Dr Kgosi Letlape were among those who spoke at the meeting.